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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A seed like no other", Sept. 15 2006
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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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.

With the fur trade in decline, Vaillant describes the growth of the lumber industry. "Rapacious" is a mild description of what the timber giants engaged in as North American society edged westward from the early Atlantic colonial enclaves. Clear cutting has left the West Coast, especially British Columbia, looking like a beast with a serious skin ailment. It was this destruction of the natural environment, plus some personality traits, that led Hadwin to seek a symbol that would call public attention to this depredation. The Golden Spruce became his example. Freely admitting his act, explaining his purpose and apologising to the Haida, Hadwin was arrested and a trial date set. Fearing retribution, the lumberman promised to arrive at court by crossing the dangerous Hecate Straight by kayak. He was never seen again.

The symbolic spruce, finally toppled by a storm, is the lever Vaillant uses to open the question of tree germination, growth and propagation. The journalist has spent a good deal of time researching the forest industry. He interviewed loggers, researchers and company executives, delved into the history of logging and traced the changes brought about by modern logging methods and the machinery in use. That "machinery" reaches back to humanity's earliest roots and the stone axe and its successors. He depicts the dangers in gut-wrenching detail. More significantly, he reminds us that when we pick up a newspaper or sip our morning coffee from a paper cup, we remain blissfully unaware of the source for these products. His statistics are mind-numbing - a Sunday New York Times consumes almost twenty-five thousand cubic metres of wood [Vaillant likely loses a significant portion of his readership in North America by giving all measures in metric. He is, after all, a resident of Canada.]

Statistics, however, are not the heart of this story. It's a story about people - sometimes individuals, sometimes tribes, industries or traders. While there are spiritual elements here, the essence of Vaillant's narrative is reality. The reality of a society more dependent on wood than necessary and the long history of how that came about. His descriptive prose is on a par with the best of nature journalists. It is his relationship with those he interviewed that truly demonstrates his skills. He seamlessly weaves a few quotes into a succession of grander pictures. There are many reasons to have this book on your shelf, not the least of which is to understand how our society views the world around us. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read!, Jan. 1 2008
By 
This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something For Everyone, Sept. 24 2007
By 
B. Hoffman (Vancouver, BC Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
Not being a fan of historical books I was pleasantly surprised at just how entertaining this story is. While there is a huge amount of information and background on the logging and forest industry in BC the writing is crisp and the tale an interesting one. John Vaillant has obviously done his homework and presents the results of his research in a straightforward mannner, allowing readers in many instances to draw their own conclusions. And he could not have chosen a more intriguing character than Grant Hadwin, a man who objected passionately to the unrestrained destruction of these magnificent forests. While you may strongly disagree with Hadwin's method of protest you can't help but sympathize with the message he was trying to convey. A thoroughly enjoyable, well-written and thought-provoking narrative concerning issues that are just as relevant today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A reason to go to Haida Gwaii, Sept. 4 2011
By 
L. Neish (British Columbia, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
Excellent read and a gifted wordsmith. We just visited the archipelago of Hadia Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) off the coast of British Columbia and saw the remnant of this famous tree, cut down by a now infamous logger/environmentalist with a manifesto. The author's chapters on trees themselves (e.g. most of a tree is actually scaffolding) were well written as were chapters on the history of the Haida people. The man who did the dirty deed (Grant Hadwin) is given a few chapters but the book is so much more than his story. His motivations are revealed as more complex than just the work of a "nutcase". The author provokes the reader to look at his/her own consumption of natural resources. The book is very thorough in so many ways. My only minor complaint in the writing style was that it was a bit disjointed in how the chapters were arranged and didn't flow quite as smoothly as I would have liked. The author also could have hooked the reader a bit more at the beginning with more of the story of the "man" and saved the history of logging to a later chapter. I could see how it might become a more tedious read for some. But it is a fabulous place steeped in mystery and history and reading the book now makes me want to re-visit the place. Just don't rent a car from Budget at the airport or they will charge you for the road dirt that accumulates on your car for the 3 km drive on an <horrors> unpaved road out to the Golden Spruce Trail from Port Clements.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book!, Dec 1 2008
By 
Kay (B.C. Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
Even thought this book has been out awhile I just stumbled across it a couple of months ago. It caught my eye because I have relatives who live on Haida Gwaii and just got back from visiting the beautiful island. Not only were the details about the loss of the beloved tree and the circumstances surrounding it fascinating, but the book also gave me alot of information about the logging industry (it's history, etc.) that I didn't know about. I highly recommend this book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Words don't do justice..., Dec 1 2007
By 
David A. Dittmar (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
I completely agree with all other positive reviews, especially David Boe's response.

The emotions that this book elicits in the reader are difficult to describe in words. Vaillant's work has the ability to entertain readers of many different backgrounds and tastes. I found myself intentionally reading this book more slowly than others because I didn't want it to end.

Please do your heart, mind, and soul a favour and read this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Haunting Book, Aug. 15 2007
By 
R. Ramos (Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
I seldom read non-fiction, but this was a book club choice and I am very glad I read it. John Vaillant's prose is rich and quite poetic at times. But the engrossing writing does not overshadow the tale Vaillant set himself to tell. The main thread of the book is the story of how a centuries old golden spruce, that was sacred to the Haida, was cut down by Grant Hadwin, a logger gone environmentalist gone mad. In a more in-depth journalistic style and skillfully researched, Vaillant also tells us the historical factors behind the logging industry in the West Coast, and the difficult relationship between loggers and the indigenous people of the area. This is a multi-layered book, partially mystery, partially historical account, definitely haunting in the environmental questions it poses.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional, July 21 2007
By 
Selka Kind (Nelson, BC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
A riveting read with breathtaking scope, considering that the core is a mystery story without resolution. Vaillant takes the reader on a walk through a vast tract of background, covering Canadian history from first contact, Pacific logging practices, Grant Hadwin's ancestry, Haida Gwaii traditions, and environmental opinion. All this with the pageturning energy of a murder mystery. But there's no convenient good/bad guys; there are complicated, layered, and very current issues to be weighed.

I think the ultimate beauty of the book is that it doesn't deign to make decisions about the story it's telling or tell you how you should feel about it, it just gives you all you could possibly want to know to draw your own conclusions, and thus leaves you with a very powerful, lasting feeling.

Instantly hit my favorite all-time list.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Sacred Tree, June 14 2007
This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
This won the 2005 Governor General's Award for non-fiction. It's core is about Grant Hadwin, an environmentalist who chopped down a 300 year old Sitka golden spruce, but a lot of other history is given: logging in British Columbia; the native Haida's culture and the influence European settlers had on them; the settlement of cities on the West coast. The mystery behind Hadwin's motive and his subsequent disappearance after destroying the sacred tree didn't interest me as much as the descriptions of the Haidi and the history of lumbering.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great book!, April 25 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Paperback)
This is a very informative and interesting story. This book gives the reader insight into the foresting industry and the things that drive it. In many ways, such a book is just what Hadwin hoped to inspire: I good hard look at the irony of saving one tree while destroying so many. I take away one star because it can be very fact heavy. However, I came away from the reading a much more informed person.
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The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Vaillant (Paperback - Jan. 3 2006)
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