This review is written by Ann Kleinschmidt, PhD, FSF member and volunteer. Ann provides a concise, informative overview of a book that intricately explores the centuries-long relationship between humans and wood, and therefore, forests.
The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization
by Roland Ennos
This book is information rich, but is not dull, and one of the most striking aspects is the joy and enthusiasm about wood and trees that the author allows to permeate through his writing. Roland Ennos has a PhD in biomechanics and his research focuses on those features of trees and wood. However, the topics covered in the book go beyond this discipline and provide an interesting and thorough interdisciplinary narrative about the reciprocity of how humans, and our primate ancestors before us, have shaped wood and how this material has shaped us. (The narrative in the book spans the time when our arboreal evolutionary ancestors lived in the canopy to today). The argument the author makes is that wood is a material that has been mostly ignored in the telling of the history of humans, and that his goal is to provide information that helps the reader understand how wood has been the connector between the other “ages” of stone, bronze, and iron. Unlike these materials, wood is perishable over time and thus the archaeological record of wood use is sparse. While Ennos has used available archaeological evidence, he has also pulled relevant material from a variety of other disciplines, such as anthropology and primatology, to support his argument. The author uses his own expertise to describe the difficulties faced when trying to “shape” wood and how these challenges were overcome as humans moved from one age to another. If you are looking for a “light read” this book is not for you. However, if you are willing to spend time in the author’s world, you will be rewarded with a rich understanding of wood and its impact.