According to mythology, people became truly "human" by learning to domesticate fire and cook food. Other great transformation - the birth of agriculture and the industrial revolution - represent huge leaps forward in our relations with fire. This book examines Homer and the Hebrew Bible, the Vestal Virgins and pioneering Roman fire brigades, the role of Hell-fire in Christianity's "civilizing campaign" and developments from the age of steam to "fire-powered" cars and nuclear fusion. Even today, bush and forest fires caused by short-sighted farming policies or sheer high spirits contribute to the disastrous international wood shortage. This work of wide-ranging scholarship both illuminates such current concerns, and makes readers look again at the whole course of human history. Johan Goudsblom is the author of "Dutch Society", "Sociology in the Balance", "Nihilism and Culture" and "Human History and Social Process".
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An offbeat, interesting view of the rise of civilization in relation to the control of fire. From hearths and hellfire to firearms, fission, and fusion, Dutch sociologist Goudsblom (University of Amsterdam) highlights the significance of fire in the human agenda. His research--tapping sources in anthropology, archaeology, and the history of science, religion, and technology--points up dual aspects: There is fire as a civilizing element--in cooking and chemistry, as a source of heat and light, and as a literal spark to the Industrial Revolution and transportation--and fire as burning, a source of fear, punishment (and sometimes purification), and of destruction by nature, arson, or war, as well as of sickness and death as a result of pollution and disease. Among the more compelling points is Goudsblom's view of the monotheistic religions as sources of diversity and separation in emerging agrarian/urban societies. The Bible, for example, inveighs against sacrifices to ``strange fire'' and fire cults. Otherwise, fire was just one of many natural ordeals until medieval times, when flames were used to punish heretics and witches and to ensure obedience to the faith. In contrast, the hearth was sacred in Greece and Rome, where temples housed fires tended by virgin priestesses (the placement of temples on hills also allowed fire to act as a beacon to ships at sea). Over the course of millennia, fire was increasingly tamed while its power escalated. Early on, ``curfews'' (the curbing of open fires at night) were imposed to protect towns from conflagrations. Ritual bonfires were held to get rid of refuse (and to burn cats). Building codes began to demand stone and brick over wood and thatch. Even as society has grown more ``civilized,'' however, it has become more incendiary. Thus the need for control is as great as ever--which is Goudsblom's final, well-made point. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Arguing that human control of fire has been a neglected topic in 20th-century social sciences, University of Amsterdam sociologist Goudsblom here surveys the role of fire throughout a vast span of history. Though his style is bland, the author draws on disciplines from anthropology to history and ecology to offer intriguing insights. He begins with the domestication of fire, its impact on agrarianization and its place in ancient Israel, Greece and Rome--where the private fire brigade was instituted. Goudsblom also assesses the significance of fire in culture, suggesting that dread of hell-fire developed as people learned to fear fire in war and in cities. Looking at fire in the industrial age, Goudsblom notes that progress brought the safety match and better fuels as well as greater military destruction and planned, contained forest fires. A final chapter ranges from the psychological analysis of arsonists to the symbolic use of fire in public demonstrations and riots.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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