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Capsule Review

The Alps: An Environmental History

In This Review

The Alps: An Environmental History
The Alps: An Environmental History
By Jon Mathieu. Translated by Rose Hadshar
Polity, 2019, 184 pp. Purchase

Among the globe’s great mountain ranges, the Alps are exceptional, not least because humans have inhabited them for longer, more densely, and in more economically productive ways than any other. Mathieu obsessively packs this introduction to their history with facts about human interaction with the mountains. He describes how people began visiting them to hunt and gather 50,000 years ago and built the first continuous settlements among them 15,000 years ago—culminating in the surprising range of churches and monasteries that dot the mountain range’s peaks and valleys today. Ever since 218 BC, when Hannibal drove his army over the Alps, most Europeans have viewed them as an inert barrier to travel and commerce. A few hundred years ago, elite climbers began tackling the Alpine slopes, joined by tourists and writers in search of the sublime. More recently, governments have cooperated to preserve the distinctive Alpine culture and natural environment, which remains a monument to mutually beneficial interaction between man and mountain. 

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