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Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in…

Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls

by Robert Thorson

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Despite all my grousing, this is a very good book, solidly researched and well written. The strongest sections of the book pertain to geological matters, which makes sense, as Thorson is a geologist by vocation, clearly. He has valiantly done his research into the history of pre and post colonial New England, although he generalizes here and there, gets dates a little mixed up (I swear - it's something to do with being a person who thinks in hundreds of thousands of years - to keep track of a piddling fifty or so, it's too picayune - a grain of sand to a boulder). 'Mid 18th century' is the same time period as 'fifty or so years before the American Revolution' for example. The last three chapters are eloquent, describing the abandonment of New England (again, the history is a wee bit confusing, but the description of what happens once a house, barn, wall is left on its own is terrifically done. I did not know to what extent the stone walls are being pillaged for 'ruburban' landscaping - there was a time when people would remove barns wholesale and that is now a no-no, so I guess it's time to legislate that stone walls must stay as historical artifacts.
Here is Thorson himself on the magical compulsion rocks can have on one: "In every human brain, ancient or modern, is a mental package of instinctual feelings, something the psychologist Carl Jung deemed the 'collective unconscious.' One manifestation of this instinct is an affinity for stone, especially when it is weathered, as on a natural outcrop." (My italics) - he then goes on to describe stone being used ONLY for practical ends, a shelter, a game blind, a cache..... and yet all over the world stone is also used for spiritual purposes as well and has been - since man first 'awoke'. He talks elsewhere of prehistoric man has having been in New England as long as 12,000 years ago..... so........ why this reluctance to admit that a small but extremely important and significant percentage of stone work predates the colonial era? Just stubborn, I guess. but one more chapter about this would have made his book a five star for me. **** ( )
  sibyx | Nov 7, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802776876, Paperback)

There once may have been 250,000 miles of stone walls in America’s Northeast, stretching farther than the distance to the moon. They took three billion man-hours to build. And even though most are crumbling today, they contain a magnificent scientific and cultural story—about the geothermal forces that formed their stones, the tectonic movements that brought them to the surface, the glacial tide that broke them apart, the earth that held them for so long, and about the humans who built them.

Stone walls tell nothing less than the story of how New England was formed, and in Robert Thorson’s hands they live and breathe. “The stone wall is the key that links the natural history and human history of New England,” Thorson writes. Millions of years ago, New England’s stones belonged to ancient mountains thrust up by prehistoric collisions between continents. During the Ice Age, pieces were cleaved off by glaciers and deposited—often hundreds of miles away—when the glaciers melted. Buried again over centuries by forest and soil buildup, the stones gradually worked their way back to the surface, only to become impediments to the farmers cultivating the land in the eighteenth century, who piled them into “linear landfills,” a place to hold the stones. Usually the biggest investment on a farm, often exceeding that of the land and buildings combined, stone walls became a defining element of the Northeast’s landscape, and a symbol of the shift to an agricultural economy.

Stone walls layer time like Russian dolls, their smallest elements reflecting the longest spans, and Thorson urges us to study them, for each stone has its own story. Linking geological history to the early American experience, Stone by Stone presents a fascinating picture of the land the Pilgrims settled, allowing us to see and understand it with new eyes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:15 -0400)

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