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Jungle: How Tropical Forests Shaped the World—and Us

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"A bold, ambitious and truly wonderful history of the world"—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees From the age of dinosaurs to the first human cities, a groundbreaking new history of the planet that tropical forests made.  To many of us, tropical forests are the domain of movies and novels. These dense, primordial wildernesses are beautiful to picture, but irr "A bold, ambitious and truly wonderful history of the world"—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees From the age of dinosaurs to the first human cities, a groundbreaking new history of the planet that tropical forests made.  To many of us, tropical forests are the domain of movies and novels. These dense, primordial wildernesses are beautiful to picture, but irrelevant to our lives.   Jungle tells a different story. Archaeologist Patrick Roberts argues that tropical forests have shaped nearly every aspect of life on earth. They made the planet habitable, enabled the rise of dinosaurs and mammals, and spread flowering plants around the globe. New evidence also shows that humans evolved in jungles, developing agriculture and infrastructure unlike anything found elsewhere.  Humanity’s fate is tied to the fate of tropical forests, and by understanding how earlier societies managed these habitats, we can learn to live more sustainably and equitably today. Blending cutting-edge research and incisive social commentary, Jungle is a bold new vision of who we are and where we come from. 


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"A bold, ambitious and truly wonderful history of the world"—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees From the age of dinosaurs to the first human cities, a groundbreaking new history of the planet that tropical forests made.  To many of us, tropical forests are the domain of movies and novels. These dense, primordial wildernesses are beautiful to picture, but irr "A bold, ambitious and truly wonderful history of the world"—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees From the age of dinosaurs to the first human cities, a groundbreaking new history of the planet that tropical forests made.  To many of us, tropical forests are the domain of movies and novels. These dense, primordial wildernesses are beautiful to picture, but irrelevant to our lives.   Jungle tells a different story. Archaeologist Patrick Roberts argues that tropical forests have shaped nearly every aspect of life on earth. They made the planet habitable, enabled the rise of dinosaurs and mammals, and spread flowering plants around the globe. New evidence also shows that humans evolved in jungles, developing agriculture and infrastructure unlike anything found elsewhere.  Humanity’s fate is tied to the fate of tropical forests, and by understanding how earlier societies managed these habitats, we can learn to live more sustainably and equitably today. Blending cutting-edge research and incisive social commentary, Jungle is a bold new vision of who we are and where we come from. 

50 review for Jungle: How Tropical Forests Shaped the World—and Us

  1. 4 out of 5

    Noel

    First, some disclaimers: a) I work with the author (in my professional career as an archaeologist) and b) he’s a dear friend. So I’ll try to be objective. In my opinion, this a very good, important book. First, you can’t help but admire Roberts’ breadth of knowledge. He pulls so much information from different fields of study: biology, zoology, botany, paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, human ecology, history, social sciences, and economics even (just look at the 70+ pages of sources, one First, some disclaimers: a) I work with the author (in my professional career as an archaeologist) and b) he’s a dear friend. So I’ll try to be objective. In my opinion, this a very good, important book. First, you can’t help but admire Roberts’ breadth of knowledge. He pulls so much information from different fields of study: biology, zoology, botany, paleontology, anthropology, archaeology, human ecology, history, social sciences, and economics even (just look at the 70+ pages of sources, one can’t help but be impressed). I focus more or less on a similar/parallel topic for work (archaeology/anthropology in the tropics) but still I learned so much new stuff, which I think is testament to how informative readers will find this book. Roberts also has a way of making complex topics very understandable- without resorting to academic jargon- but also without too much simplification. A balance that I find really admirable. In the last two chapters: ‘Houses on Fire’ and ‘A Global Responsibility’ Roberts looks at the ‘now’. “Tropical forests are all around you…These are not distant, exotic environments on the other side of the world. Rather, through an entangled prehistory and history, they have found their way into your homes. No matter where you are.” This ‘looking at the now’, I think, is what makes great popular science/nature books. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction’ comes to mind. Those that compel you to change something in your life, however small, for the sake of those who will come to this world after us.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Intriguing Premise. Fascinating Start. Back Half Marred By Politics And Questionable Scholarship. This book had an utterly fascinating premise, one I've read a couple of other books over the last year in the same arena - the history of wood and palm oil in those prior books. And y'all, the front half of this book, mostly concerned with prehistory, was *awesome*. Roberts tracks how the development of what we now call in English "jungle" began in the earliest geological eras of plant life, through Intriguing Premise. Fascinating Start. Back Half Marred By Politics And Questionable Scholarship. This book had an utterly fascinating premise, one I've read a couple of other books over the last year in the same arena - the history of wood and palm oil in those prior books. And y'all, the front half of this book, mostly concerned with prehistory, was *awesome*. Roberts tracks how the development of what we now call in English "jungle" began in the earliest geological eras of plant life, through the time of the dinosaurs, and into the evolution of humanity from our earliest barely-more-than-ape forebears to modern Homo Sapien Sapien. But then we get into the first millennium ish AD and Roberts turns his focus to the native populations of the Americas - and blaming Columbus specifically and Europe generally for every ill to come since. Even while noting cases where conquest would not have been possible except that certain elements of the native populations betrayed other elements for their own personal power. Ok. Still has some solid points about the interrelationship between humans and jungle here, but even here the politics is quite heavy handed - though admittedly typical for elitist academics and perfectly in line with that level of thought. Coming into much more recent times - within my lifetime ish, since the 1980s - Roberts goes deeper into the politics, even openly praising Greta Thunberg (a bit ironic, given Roberts' own actual academic pedigree vs Thurnberg's lack of one). But worse than that, he actively gets a bit lax with his scholarship through this point, noting the spread of Ebola into the US during the 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak... without acknowledging that it was (mostly) active - and *safe* (as safe as anything *can* be with Ebola) - efforts by the US government to bring US nationals back to within the US for treatments. Instead, the implication from the author is that this was more direct results of lackadaisical regulations and rampant environmental destruction. He also (accurately) notes the 3,000 people killed by Hurricane Maria in 2017... without noting that Hurricane Irma had come through many of the same regions as an even stronger storm just two weeks prior, causing quite a bit of damage that ultimately led to a larger loss of life than normal when a second major hurricane (Maria) came through so soon after. (Disclaimer here: I moved to northern Florida in August 2017, barely a month before Irma and barely 6 weeks before Maria. I had a planned cruise in November 2017 to San Juan and St Maarten, among others, moved to Aruba and Curacao due to the combined effects of the two storms.) Finally, in perhaps the most glaring questionable fact in the entire text, Roberts points to COVID-19 case counts "as of the end of July 2021". Except that I'm writing this review on July 15, 2021, almost exactly halfway into the month down to the minute, and I've had this book in ARC form since May 12, 2021. (And I should note that this book appeared to be mostly completely print ready at that time, though the publisher and author may claim that there were indeed a few more edits since that point.) Even if one assumes that this particular line was placed in the book by say May 10, at the very latest stages before making it available on NetGalley (where I got it), and even if one assumes that the actual number at hand is accurate (I have no real reason to doubt it, though I personally stopped paying attention to these particular numbers over a year ago), wouldn't it have been better scholarship to note that the case count was "as of the end of May 2021"? Or was the author projecting and hoping this either wasn't noticed, that he would be proven correct prior to publication (still almost exactly two months away, as this book is currently shown to publish on September 14, 2021 at the time of writing this review), or that this particular fact could be updated prior to publication with the actual number? None of those three options point to the same level of scholarship of the beginning of the book, and indeed the fact of their existence brings into doubt all prior points and presumed merits. Thus, including that particular fact ultimately does more harm to the entire text than even the most blatant of political biases displayed earlier in the text. Still, ultimately this was a very approachable text that even when taking into account its standard academic biases generally presents an intriguing look into the history and development of humanity, and it actually has a respectable bibliography, clocking in at around 26% of the text. Thus the book is still ultimately recommended for that alone. Just... make sure you read other competing books in the same area in addition to this one. Post Script: While looking for the author's website for the blog version of this review, I found out that the author is indeed a seeming expert *in prehistoric jungles*, having published several articles in peer reviewed journals over the last decade. But nearly every single article listed on his website deals with the prehistoric era, which perhaps explains the difference in how excellent this particular book was when it was discussing this particular era vs the problems that began mostly when he left it. Which is leaving me, for one, *very* interested in a follow up book expanding on the first half of this one with even more details, perhaps, of the environments, fauna, and flora of these prehistoric eras the author seems to know so well.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Claude

    An incredibly thorough and thought provoking read. Realised I had many misconceptions regarding tropical rainforests and how humans have inhabited them, which makes the fact we are destroying them even more disturbing

  4. 5 out of 5

    Xavier Bonilla

    This is a book I didn’t know I needed! Roberts masterfully details the evolution of tropical forests on earth through each period. He quite convincingly shows how humans and forests cohabitate together through time and even still today. Finally, he shows why understanding and respecting our forests is so essential for the planet and for us as humans. Highly recommend!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    A really nice look at interactions humans and other animals have within and around jungle and forests. A look that is not just the past fifty years but hundreds. Really good.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul Mcguire

    I received an early copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley and Basic Books. Jungle will change the way you think about the jungle and tropical rainforests. It presents an accessible refresher on biology and ecosystems that is enjoyable for the science and nature enthusiasts. The author helpfully defines technical terms in the body of the text to avoid the need for reference materials. The text flows in a conversational manner that is easy to understand. It doesn't get to the st I received an early copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley and Basic Books. Jungle will change the way you think about the jungle and tropical rainforests. It presents an accessible refresher on biology and ecosystems that is enjoyable for the science and nature enthusiasts. The author helpfully defines technical terms in the body of the text to avoid the need for reference materials. The text flows in a conversational manner that is easy to understand. It doesn't get to the story of humans (through primates) until chapter 5. And not until chapter 6 does the author start to defend his new thesis. Practically speaking the history of humans is a history of farming. We can trace humanity's ability to survive in the jungle to the crops we can locate in the soil. Chapter 7 explores this in detail. This is a fine companion to Four Lost Cities, exploring the rise of various jungle cities, including Angkor. The author argues that our current ideas of humans being unable to survive in the jungle comes from colonialism and the destruction that accompanies it. This is explored in detail through numerous crops and animals, the introduction of which led to changes in the environment we still deal with today. Roberts describes how the globalization of the European methods of farming, especially cattle and related animals has lead to increased deforestation throughout the world. Spanish and European mining for gold and silver has had similar destructive impacts on the environment in South America and elsewhere. Later chapters explore major ways our global capitalist culture is slowly destroying the environment and harming indigenous populations including the ever-destructive oil palm industry. It is a wake up call for those who recognize climate change is a threat but may not have understood just how severe a threat it poses. 

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elisa

    I was expecting a different book. I liked the first chapters, especially the ones devoted to the important role of plants in the evolution of our planet. In all the books or movies about dinosaurs, for instance, their natural environment tends to be more of a background, but it influenced everything, from their diet to the eventual survival of some species over others. I also enjoyed the history lessons in the middle chapters, including the civilizations that thrived in the jungles and how human I was expecting a different book. I liked the first chapters, especially the ones devoted to the important role of plants in the evolution of our planet. In all the books or movies about dinosaurs, for instance, their natural environment tends to be more of a background, but it influenced everything, from their diet to the eventual survival of some species over others. I also enjoyed the history lessons in the middle chapters, including the civilizations that thrived in the jungles and how humans started modifying their natural environments. My problem was the heavy political content. I was expecting to learn more about the science of nature and not about Greta Thunberg. Maybe the synopsis should have been more clear about this part so that it wouldn’t feel so much as a bait and switch. I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/Perseus Books, Basic Books!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This is an immersing read exploring the evolution of jungles and their influence on human societies. I was really excited to see the time-depth covered in the book, and also the focus on plants! In my opinion, this gives it a scope and perspective that is often lacking from natural science works, particularly those with a conservation focus. Quite impressively, the author manages to achieve the very difficult task of presenting a huge amount of scientific data in an accessible and engaging manner This is an immersing read exploring the evolution of jungles and their influence on human societies. I was really excited to see the time-depth covered in the book, and also the focus on plants! In my opinion, this gives it a scope and perspective that is often lacking from natural science works, particularly those with a conservation focus. Quite impressively, the author manages to achieve the very difficult task of presenting a huge amount of scientific data in an accessible and engaging manner. Would definitely recommend to anyone interested in the natural world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Marshall

    I reviewed this in detail for New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/... In brief: a fantastically researched and wide-ranging book, sadly let down by a difficult and rather dour prose style. I reviewed this in detail for New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/... In brief: a fantastically researched and wide-ranging book, sadly let down by a difficult and rather dour prose style.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Triumphal Reads

  11. 5 out of 5

    Norman Gagnon

  12. 4 out of 5

    HEROIAM TPLF APP TIGRAY WOYANAY

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zoe Ratz

  14. 5 out of 5

    Manusaurus

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sayani

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ryzon

  17. 4 out of 5

    Benedikt

  18. 4 out of 5

    Graham Petrie

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lilly-Anne

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  21. 4 out of 5

    Scarlet

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Ovenden

  23. 5 out of 5

    Seamus Enright

  24. 5 out of 5

    James Harrison

  25. 4 out of 5

    tony

  26. 4 out of 5

    Juan V. Ruiz

  27. 4 out of 5

    César

  28. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alan

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  31. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  32. 5 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  33. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

  34. 5 out of 5

    Dеnnis

  35. 4 out of 5

    Eule Luftschloss

  36. 5 out of 5

    Lesley Kay

  37. 5 out of 5

    Lucía López

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tate

  39. 5 out of 5

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  40. 4 out of 5

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  41. 4 out of 5

    Ashleigh

  42. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  43. 4 out of 5

    DiatomDoc

  44. 4 out of 5

    James Cersonsky

  45. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Liljenström

  46. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  47. 5 out of 5

    Jay F

  48. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca (Medusa's Rock Garden)

  49. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  50. 4 out of 5

    Hanno

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