Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New Englands Stone Walls By Robert M. Thorson

I am fascinated by all the stone walls. Not quite fascinated enough to read every word in the chapters on the geology of New England. I skimmed the first three chapters. I was amazed to find out the bulk of the walls originated from the time period after the Revolutionary War until the railroads began construction. It was the process of deforestation in the time before the Revolutionary War that brought the rocks to the surface. I don't recall seeing miles of stone walls in virgin forests, however, they are plentiful in regrowth forests. I'm glad I picked it up at the library. Paperback Only a brief section concerns the building methods and purposes of the walls. Thorson gives and extensive explanation of where the stone came from (a couple of hundred million years of geological processes) and why the walls were built only during a few decades starting in the mid/late 18th century. As a result, the walls themselves don't come into the story until well past page 100. There is also an extensive discussion of the fate of the walls and the various reasons why they are gradually disappearing. These sections are interesting, but not what I had expected. Paperback This book has its moments of brilliance. If I were into geology more, this book would have likely been more enjoyable. But, I commend this author for writing about something he truly loves and trying to make it manageable for the rest of us.

What has remained for me are some of the surprises. Like, New England’s soil wasn’t rocky and difficult to farm—at least not for the first 100 years. It was lush and loamy and fertile. But greed and laziness made later settlers clear-cut fields far too quickly. Erosion and exposure to frost made the soil rocky. The rocky and difficult soil was a man-made problem—one they left to their descendants to deal with as they moved onto the next new (easy) field...

There’s a moral here, for sure. Paperback What makes this book so special can be seen in the subtitle’s preposition, in. It’s not a history of walls, but of what’s in them, that is more geological than historical (but the history’s there, as well). There’s too much information, of course, and there's at least one entire chapter the book could have done without, but it’s the oddness of the book that makes it so special. The writing isn’t bad either, and it did manage to answer the questions I had about the stone walls all over the area where I live. Paperback A well researched, somewhat academic book about the stonewalls of New England. The author goes into a little bit too much detail at times, such as the first 40 pages being about New England geology. He also tends to use a bit more hyperbole then I prefer, such as “our food is genetically modified, our clothing comes from synthetic fabrics, and our electricity is produced by nuclear reactors,“ when writing about our nostalgia for stone walls. Still, if you’re interested in New England history, it’s an interesting and important book. I particularly found the sections on how stones appear in farm fields, the relationship between farming and stonewalls, and how stonewalls became iconic for New England interesting. Paperback

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I just read a book about stone walls… and loved it. Spanning from the formation of earth to the end of humanity, Thorson centers the stone walls of New England, but explores so much more. About Geology, about nature, about a lot of things, but ultimately, about humanity and our relationship with the earth. A wonderful read, and one I highly recommend. Paperback Provides a thorough, comprehensive, yet poetic history of those mysterious stone walls found in the middle of the woods. Paperback Many people would not think that a little book about stone walls would be of much interest, but this book is so comprehensive (from geology to poetry) and written so precisely and carefully (dare I say, lovingly) that you will be become enthralled. Paperback A 2002 book written by a geologist that all New Englanders, and those who love New England, will enjoy. Its meaning goes beyond its central story of the stone walls. It's an elegant synthesis of geology, history, economics, and human nature as revealed to us by what we leave behind, inspiring us to understand our place as a part of nature, not as apart from nature. Paperback The perfect book for someone who likes rocks and history as much as I do. 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. Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New Englands Stone Walls