Vestal Fire

Vestal Fire : An Environmental History, Told through Fire, of Europe and Europe's Encounter with the World

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Stephen Pyne has been described as having a consciousness "composed of equal parts historian, ecologist, philosopher, critic, poet, and sociologist." At this time in history when many people are trying to understand their true relationship with the natural environment, this book offers a remarkable contribution--breathtaking in the scope of its research and exhilarating to read.

Pyne takes the reader on a journey through time, exploring the terrain of Europe and the uses and abuses of its lands as well as, through migration and conquest, many parts of the rest of the world. Whether he is discussing the Mediterranean region, Russia, Scandinavia, the British Isles, central Europe, or colonized islands; whether he is considering the impact of agriculture, forestry, or Enlightenment thinking, the author brings an unmatched insight to his subject.

Vestal Fire takes its title from Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth and keeper of the sacred fire on Mount Olympus. But the book's title also suggests the strengths and limitations of Europe's peculiar conception of fire, and through fire, of its relationship to nature. Between the untamed fire of the wilderness and the tended fire of the hearth lies a never-ending dialectic in which human beings struggle to control natural forces and processes that in fact can sometimes be directed but never wholly dominated or contained.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 672 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 41.4mm | 1,129g
  • Seattle, United States
  • English
  • 65 illus.
  • 029599617X
  • 9780295996172

Table of contents


Foreword by William Cronon

Author's Notes

Prologue: Quest for Fire

Book 1: Elements


Diamond in the Rough: A Physical Geography of European Fire

New Worlds from Old: A Biogeography of European Fire

Fusain and Flame: A Natural History of European Fire


Errant Fire: The Hominid Colonization of Europe

Cultivated Fire: The Agricultural Reclamation of Europe

Pyrotechnia: The Technology of Combustion


Domiciled Fire: Hearth and House

The Fire in the Cave: Combustion and Cognition

Need-Fire, Vestal Fire: Ceremony and Ritual

Book 2: Europe

Eternal Flame: Fire in Mediterranean Europe

Prologue: West of Eden

Behold, Before a Garden, Behind a Waste

Arcadia and Anarchy: Mediterranean Pastorale

Grand Traverse: Imperial France

Mediterranean Miniature: Cyprus

Epilogue: Fin-de Siecle Fire

Controlled Combustion: Fire in Central Europe

Prologue: Ashes and Embers

Landnam: The Fire of First Contact

Reclamation: The Fire in the Garden

Revolution: The Enlightenment Comes to Agriculture

Revolution Redux: Forestry Takes Command

Epilogue: Holocaust

Wild Hearth: Fire in Boreal Europe

Prologue: Fire and Water

Fire and Sword: The Historia of Olaus Magnus

Fire and Ax: The Finnish Colonization

Fire and Field: The Travels of Linnaeus

Fire and Iron: The Adventures of Nils

Epilogue: Final Flame

Flaming Front: Fire in Eurasian Europe

Prologue: Wooden Rus' Is like a Fire

The Candle and the Torch

Lines of Fire, Fields of Fire

Emancipation and Suppression

When the Sky Burned

Epilogue: Fire in the Minds of Men

Spot Fires: Fire in Atlantic Europe

Prologue: Sparks in the Wind

It Was All a Planted Garden: The British Isles

Green Fire: The Celtic Isle

Northern Mists, Northern Smoke: The Norse Islands

Blessed Isles, Burned Isles: The Iberian Islands

Epilogue: The World Encompassed

Book 3: Earth


New Fire: The Coming of Antropogenic Fire

Strange Fire: The Coming of European Fire

Sacred Fire: The Coming of Conservation


Carrying the Fire: Europe Expands

Counter Fire: Europe Contains

Fire in the Ashes: Europe Rekindles


Conduction: The European Connection

Radiation: The Neo-Europes

Convection: Black Death, Heat Death

Epilogue: Beyond the Realm of Fire




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Review quote

No one is better qualified to teach us about fire's history, fire's crucial role in shaping landscapes, than Stephen Pyne. His discussions of forestry, land-management elitism, pastoral incendiarism, nature reserves, the conservation movement and the ecology of disturbance are profoundly valuable. * New York Times Book Review * A work of marvelous intellectual force and considerable learning. * Atlantic Monthly * Vestal Fire can be described as Pyne's masterpiece, a prodigious and eloquent narration of European history spanning several millennia, woven together by a common thread, fire. * Choice * Vestal Fire is Stephen Pyne's masterpiece. In it, he offers nothing less than a retelling of all of European history from a vantage point no other historian has ever adopted so consistently before: that of the fire which in Pyne's view burns at the very heart of Western civilization." -- William Cronon * from the Foreword *
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About Stephen J. Pyne

Stephen J. Pyne is professor of history at Arizona State University. He is the author of nine other books, including Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter's Season at the Grand Canyon.
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Rating details

13 ratings
3.84 out of 5 stars
5 23% (3)
4 54% (7)
3 15% (2)
2 0% (0)
1 8% (1)
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