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Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World: From Ancient Egypt to Today's Water Wars [Kindle Edition]

John Gaudet

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At the center of the most vital human-plant relationship in history, Papyrus evokes the mysteries of the ancient world while holding the key to the world’s wetlands and atmospheric stability.

From ancient Pharaohs to 21st Century water wars, papyrus is a unique plant that is still one of the fastest growing plant species on earth. It produces its own “soil”—a peaty, matrix that floats on water—and its stems inspired the fluted columns of the ancient Greeks. In ancient Egypt, the papyrus bounty from the Nile delta provided not just paper for record keeping—instrumental to the development of civilization—but food, fuel and boats. Disastrous weather in the 6th Century caused famines and plagues that almost wiped out civilization in the west, but it was papyrus paper in scrolls and codices that kept the record of our early days and allowed the thread of history to remain unbroken. The sworn enemy of oblivion and the guardian of our immortality it came to our rescue then and will again.

Today, it is not just a curious relic of our ancient past, but a rescuing force for modern ecological and societal blight. In an ironic twist, Egypt is faced with enormous pollution loads that forces them to import food supplies, and yet papyrus is one of the most effective and efficient natural pollution filters known to man. Papyrus was the key in stemming the devastation to the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River from raging peat fires (that last for years), heavy metal pollution in the Zambezi River Copperbelt and the papyrus laden shores of Lake Victoria—which provides water to more than 30 million people—will be crucial as the global drying of the climate continues. 8 page insert, illustrations throughout.


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7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Deep insight into an African ecological time bomb 7. Juli 2014
Von DRBarker - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Papyrus is a sedge, one among several classes of swamp plants called “reeds.” Papyrus swamps are distributed widely along rivers and lakes in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East, where they drive some of the most productive plant communities on earth. John Gaudet, an Ecologist, has studied this plant throughout his long professional career, and this book constitutes both an informal encyclopedia of the plant and the swamps it inhabits and a demonstration of an ecological approach.

In ancient times, papyrus grew thickly along the banks of the Nile River, all the way from Lake Victoria to the delta at the Mediterranean shores. From Neolithic times to about 900 AD, Egyptians used it for all sorts of things; houses, boats, rope, and, most famously, paper, whose very name comes to us from this plant. Quite apart from its usefulness to people, papyrus swamps played a key role in controlling the speed and volume of the Nile River water and creating habitats for birds, fish, and mammals.

Fast forward to the industrial age, which is the focus of about 80% of the book. Swamps are commonly viewed as untamed, backward places that need to be drained and cleared for farming and better access to their water. Gaudet takes his readers on a grim tour of devastation: to the Nile delta, which is subsiding and becoming saline; to the Huleh Valley, in Israel, a disaster which is only slowly being reversed; to Lake Naivasha, Kenya, where the commercial flower growers have cut more than 90% of the swamps; to the Sudd, in South Sudan, where trying to dig the Jonglei Canal triggered a water war; to Lake Chad, which is rapidly drying up; to Lake Victoria, where all the swamps will be gone by 2020 at the current rate of cutting, and to the Okavango delta, in Botswana, where strenuous efforts to preserve the papyrus swamps have made ecotourism the country’s number two foreign exchange earner.

Gaudet begins his conclusion by posing a paradox:

“Why, if wetlands are so valuable in their natural state, are they being eliminated at such a rapid rate? The answer to this paradox is that although wetlands serve society in multiple ways, the nature of wetland benefits are such that the owners of wetlands cannot usually capture the benefits for their own use or sale. The flood protection benefits accrue to others downstream. The fish and wildlife that breed and inhabit the wetlands migrate, and are captured or enjoyed by others. The groundwater recharge and sediment trapping benefits cannot be commercially exploited. For the owner of a wetland to benefit from his resource, he often has to alter it, convert it, and develop it. That is why, despite their value, wetlands are being eliminated.”

His final warning is stark: “In Africa, an ecological time bomb is about to go off, with agricultural, domestic and sewage pollution along the Nile and in the Central African Lakes.” He suggests that re-introducing papyrus swamps is perhaps the best chance to head this off.

Pegasus Books has done a fine job on this volume, which is loaded with both black and white and color drawings and photos and 11 maps. The Endnotes and Further Reading are thoughtful and complete. In short, the subject matter, writing style and accoutrements of scholarship are all consistent with a fine late twentieth century hardback book. But throughout much of the time I was reading it, I was nagged by the thought that saving African wetlands needs a website to supplement this book. The author clearly feels passionate about the future of African wetlands, but a hardback book cannot possibly reach all of those people needed to defuse the time bomb. This leads us to a final paradox: paper cannot save papyrus, or books save wetlands. As in so many situations in life, we turn to the internet and social media to galvanize mass action.

Fortunately, the book supplement exists, so readers who want to take the next step should visit, which is more than just Gaudet’s website to plug this book. Drawing from the powerful published text, the website has the potential to play a significant role to inform and motivate action.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Gaudeamus Papyrus 29. Mai 2014
Von David Wineberg - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
In 1960, Flanders & Swann had a song in their review At The Drop Of A Hat, called The Wom-Pom Song. It praised a miracle plant, all of which could be used and which solved basically every problem of mankind (Chorus: “There is nothing that the Wom-Pom cannot do”). They might have been inspired by the papyrus plant, as explained and examined by John Gaudet.

From rope to paper to clothing to flooring to boats, papyrus ruled. It grew wild in effusive abundance, and all you had to do to cultivate it was – nothing. For four thousand years, Egypt was the sole source for paper in the western world, which led empires to crave it – Egypt, that is. It wasn’t until 1000 AD that papyrus began to fade as the paper of record.

I particularly liked the way delta-living Egyptians built houseboats out of papyrus, which floated during the flood season, and beached during the dry season, allowing the papyrus to dry out over a few months before the waters rose again. By bundling papyrus tightly, the Egyptians created air tanks that formed the hulls of their boats and rafts, giving them high buoyancy and long life.

On the paper front, the wild, uncultivated, 18 ft tall plant and the stunningly simple process to make paper from it, led Egypt to supply the known world. Gaudet says the bureaucratic Roman Empire would have ground to a halt if Egypt had stopped shipping boatloads of paper.

Unavoidably, I suppose, the story deteriorates from the upbeat to the disastrous, as papyrus has disappeared from Egypt. We have drained the swamps they need, abandoned the water purification they provide, poisoned the ground with artificial fertilizers and dumped raw sewage into the Nile in the billions of gallons – per day. No surprise then that the Nile doesn’t support such idyllic scenes and beneficial species any more. Egyptians can literally smell fish caught in the Nile, and back away.

The most horrible story comes from Israel, much more recently, and therefore much more thoroughly documented. Developers in the north drained a papyrus swamp, which ruined their business, caused massive pollution for 20 years as far south as Galilee, and stopped virtually all development as people moved out in droves. All because the papyrus was not left to do the job it had been silently and effectively performing for thousands of years.

So Papyrus isn’t really the story of the plant that changed the world. It’s about the human species that changed the world, and not really for the better.

Remarkably, and uniquely in my limited experience, this ecology book ends on upbeat notes. The Israelis came to realize that costly patches to the mess they made only add more problems. They decided to reflood the area and let nature take its course. They also went much farther, creating a strict nature reserve, in partnership with Jordan. The results are overwhelmingly spectacular, and the reserve is a huge tourist attraction as hundreds of thousands of birds have returned to this ancient pit stop. In Egypt, the greens are starting to have an effect as well, with natural filtration plants, and yes, the re-emergence of papyrus.

There is actually hope.

David Wineberg
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen An interesting, informative and enjoyable read... 3. Juni 2014
Von M. Salmon - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Papyrus is a book written with passion, knowledge and experience.
John Gaudet starts by reviewing the history of the papyrus plant and how especially in ancient Egypt it played an important part in the economic life of one of the early superpowers – the Egyptians used papyrus in boat construction, in rope manufacture and, most importantly, to make paper (which word derives from papyrus).
In the middle section of Papyrus John Gaudet begins to unravel the complex issues that surround swamps and wetlands, past, present & future. Water thirsty nations look upon swamps as a source of additional water supplies – those dependent on the swamps for their own livelihoods are generally vulnerable to the depredations of those with greater resources. And what are the ecological consequences of draining a swamp? John Gaudet has travelled widely across Africa and the Middle East to examine the benefits and the costs...
In part 3, John Gaudet promotes the benefits of maintaining swamps, one of the greatest being the ability of papyrus swamps to filter pollutants out of water cheaply and effectively.
Perhaps there will be those with sufficient clout who, having read this book and seen what needs to be done, are able to push through the necessary social, political or economic changes to prevent existing swamps from being drained or re-establish swamps where they can cleanse polluted lakes, rivers or estuaries.
I recommend Papyrus as an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the history and geography of Africa and more particularly Egypt. If you have a particular interest in ecology, I’d say Papyrus is a must read book. And all of us who are concerned about the environment and the dangers of water pollution should be fascinated by his explanation of how papyrus is a natural filter for wetland pollution.
1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Wonderful story of Papyrus past, present and future that captures the mind and heart! 10. Juni 2014
Von Kevin B. Gay - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I was drawn to this book because of the history of papyrus. Until now I have only thought of papyrus as an ancient method of creating writing paper. As I read I became captivated by the images that John Gaudet has created of the floating density of the long green stems with the tufted heads. I actually went right to the movie “African Queen” to try to pick out all the papyrus in the swamp scenes and the first thing I noticed was the tied papyrus bundles that are used in the archways of the church. I read a lot of history and I can say that John has a great way of telling a story of facts and places that just keeps you reading. I then found myself totally immersed in a new world of papyrus swamp lands past and present with all its human, plant, fish and bird life. A very wonderful and captivating world. I can also say that after reading this book I have a much better understanding of what papyrus has offered African civilization in the past, how it still hangs on in the present and what it can continue to offer in the areas of water conservation in today’s abusive environments. I feel like I have just taken an excursion into a new world thanks to John Gaudet and his wonderful ability to tell such a story. It is interesting to think that the papyrus plant that helped enable the beginnings of human civilization can now offer help to a distressed environment in the exact same place it all started. Amazing... thank you John!
1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen consumate story teller 20. Juni 2014
Von x - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
John Gaudet is, as my title indicates, a consumate teller of tales. His relaxed friendly attitude is open to the world.
This book reflects his ability as a superb teacher and as a honest, humerous friend to those he meets.
John is so open and innocent in his comments that you have to love the guy. For example: what's that stink? he asks after getting off of an airplane. Lesser mortals would just silently choke and gasp where John pipes up saying What's that stink? He approaches a paprus swamp dressed somewhat like a deep sea diver, and describes his begining to melt inside his outfit. Sounds like Sam Clemens doesn't it?

John is insiteful, upfront, funny and honest. John proved that compost provided for local gardens was sewage sludge by pulling a curly human hair out of it. And he was brave enough to still use it on his garden. Few of us have his courage, at least I don't.

By the way, John is a real expert on papyrus a professor no less and a papyrus researcher. You will want his book in your collection. It is as funny and honest as John is.
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