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The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed Paperback – Jan 3 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada; 1 edition (Jan. 3 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676976468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676976465
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The felling of a celebrated giant golden spruce tree in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands takes on a potent symbolism in this probing study of an unprecedented act of eco-vandalism. First-time author Vaillant, who originally wrote about the death of the spruce for the New Yorker, profiles the culprit, an ex-logger turned messianic environmentalist who toppled the famous tree—the only one of its kind—to protest the destruction of British Columbia's old-growth forest, then soon vanished mysteriously. Vaillant also explores the culture and history of the Haida Indians who revered the tree, and of the logging industry that often expresses an elegiac awe for the ancient trees it is busily clear-cutting. Writing in a vigorous, evocative style, Vaillant portrays the Pacific Northwest as a region of conflict and violence, from the battles between Europeans and Indians over the 18th-century sea otter trade to the hard-bitten, macho milieu of the logging camps, where grisly death is an occupational hazard. It is also, in his telling, a land of virtually infinite natural resources overmatched by an even greater human rapaciousness. Through this archetypal story of "people fail[ing] to see the forest for the tree," Vaillant paints a haunting portrait of man's vexed relationship with nature. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This powerful and vexing man-versus-nature tale is set in an extraordinary place, Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands, and features two legendary individuals: a uniquely golden 300-year-old Sitka spruce and Grant Hadwin, a logger turned champion of old-growth forests who ultimately destroys what he loves. With a firm grasp of every confounding aspect of this suspenseful and disturbing story and a flair for creating arresting allegories and metaphors, Vaillant conveys a wealth of complex biological, cultural, historical, and economic information within an incisive interpretation of the essential role trees have played in human civilization. Breathtaking evocations of this oceanic realm of giant trees and epic rains give way to a homage to its ghosts, for this is the sight of a holocaust, where the creative and dauntless Haida were nearly decimated by Europeans who also clear-cut the mighty forests. It is this legacy of greed and loss that rendered the immense golden spruce, a miraculous survivor, sacred, and that drove Hadwin to cut it down. This tragic tale goes right to the heart of the conflicts among loggers, native rights activists, and environmentalists, and induces us to more deeply consider the consequences of our habits of destruction. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The amazing and surprisingly gripping tale of the Golden Spruce is one of the best books I've ever read. From the seed of a story about a magnificent and mysterious tree, in a way not unlike the Golden Spruce itself, John Vaillant's story grows into something much more than an interesting and informative book.
To help the reader fully understand the strange sequence of events, Vaillant's book is loaded with historical and factual detail, interwoven into a compelling and vital narrative. Rarely have I learned so much about things around me that have a direct impact on my life while fully enjoying the entire process.
The result is a fascinating and truly important book. And the best investment of my reading time in many, many years.
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Format: Paperback
This book tells the story of the Golden Spruce--and much more. I was expecting a linear account of events leading up to the tragic end of the tree but as I read on I realized that the tale clearly could not be done justice without also relaying the stories of the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Haida people, logging in BC, and the misguided man who was at the centre of the controversy.

Vaillant's writing is elegant and beautifully descriptive; he does an exceptional job of conveying the feeling of a place, a time, a people, and an individual. This book moved me deeply and at times brought me to tears. Perhaps it is Vaillant's portrayal of our relationship--past and present--to our natural resources that invoked my most visceral response.

Not only is this a powerful story, it leaves you questioning your own role in the (ab)use of our forests.
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Format: Paperback
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book - even the back jacket precis just seemed too strange. Once I had started the book, though, there was no turning back. Goriwng up on the BC coast, I knew a certain amount about the logging industry, but I felt like this book gave me insights which I never would have had otherwise.

This book unfolds in front of you with a simplicity and elegance that I have rarely seen matched. I am a history fan, so I'm sure that made it easier, but I feel like this material would grip even those with no interest in things historical. On top of that, the tragedy and bizarre story of the book's central figure is incredibly compelling. The whole tale is such a sad one, but utterly engrossing in the way that only events too strange for fiction can be.
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Format: Hardcover
Dropped by its parent over three centuries ago, the seed produced something special in the way of a tree. Rising from the soil alongside a river in an island off the West Coast of North America, it produced a Sitka spruce of unusual character. It was a Golden Spruce. When migrating Asian peoples settled on the island it became the source of mythologies, venerated it as part of their heritage. One dark night, however, it was hewn nearly down by a man with a sense of mission. John Vaillant, in a brilliant, comprehensive account of the tree, its worshippers and its changing surroundings, relates how the tree's story is important to us all.

The key figure in this story, Grant Hadwin, was a forester. A man of deep experience in the ways of the forest and how humans interact with trees, Hadwin moved through a succession of roles. He was a timber "cruiser", a man who identifies areas suitable for the lumber industry, a road surveyor for the industry and a confirmed loner. In Vaillant's rendering, Hadwin's enigmatic act is a symbol of much wider issues. The author isn't sympathetic with Hadwin's vandalism, but he understands and imparts well the forces that led to it. The single tree becomes a pivot for an account of the Haida and other aboriginal people along the Pacific Coast. He demolishes the image of the "noble savage" living in harmony with his surroundings. The Haida were raiders, slave-takers and skilled hunters. When the Europeans arrived, the Haida were quick to take up commercial hunting of the sea otters, decimating the population in but three generations. With that source of wealth removed, plus the diseases imported from Europe, the Haida society collapsed, almost as extinguished as the animals they hunted.
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Format: Paperback
Vaillant's book is about a lot more than a former forestry technician and a rare golden spruce tree - and all of it is interesting and extremely well written.
To set Grant Hadwin's strange act of protest in context, Vaillant covers the history of Pacific North West Indians, especially the Haida, he covers the logging industry in Canada, and he even graces us with a bit of dendrology to explain why the golden spruce was such a rare tree. Along the way, he tells us about Grant Hadwin's personal journey from a member of the logging industry, to an extremely upset anti-logging activist.

On all of these topics, the "Golden Spruce" is a fascinating book. When you add them together, it truly becomes a "must read" piece of non fiction. Being from southern Ontario, and not knowing anything about the logging industry, I found Vaillant's coverage of forestry and logging the most interesting parts of the book.

Writing like this is why I liked the book so much:
"Even under the most favourable circumstances, it takes nature a long time to recover from a clear-cut. Known as 'harvests' in the timber industry, they are shocking things to behold: traumatized landscapes of harrowed earth and blasted timber. Tthe devastation is often so violent and so complete that if a person didn't know loggers had been through, he might wonder what sort of terrible calamity had just transpired: an earthquake? A tornado?"

So read about Hadwin, and ask yourself the following question - is it better to hide behind an iconic local tree, and turn a blind eye to the destruction of nature going on all around you, or to have an act of terrorism wake you up to the fact that all of your forests are gone, and the golden spruce should really be the least of your worries.

And don't forget, as Vaillant points out, by holding his book in your hand, you are complicit in the death of the forests yourself.
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