The Slain Wood: Papermaking and Its Environmental Consequences in the American South by William Boyd (review)
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The Slain Wood: Papermaking and Its Environmental Consequences in the American South. By William Boyd. ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Pp. xvii, 350. $55.00 cloth)

William Boyd's study of the pulp and paper industries throughout the U.S. South offers detailed histories of industrial adaptation and the emergence of new economic patterns during much of the twentieth century. The book's regional and broad temporal scope places it in conversation with economic histories of the postbellum and post-Depression South that seek to explain the shift from agrarianism [End Page 695] to industrialism. Boyd's intention is to "avoid traditional notions of comparative advantage" and instead historicize the development of industrial pulp and papermaking in the South as "a distinctive mix of regional institutions and resources" (p. 10). By examining science, law, policy, race, labor, and environment, Boyd's major success is that he thoroughly shows how the pulp and paper industries functioned from top to bottom as they navigated national and regional changes during the twentieth century.

Highlighting International Paper and Union Bag, among other companies, Boyd tells a capitalist "success story of immense proportions" that reordered what many in the nation believed was a "backward agrarian economy" (p. 236). But, by carefully investigating the particularities of southern society, economy, and environment, Boyd shows that industrial "success" was achieved only through adjustment to southern realities. One of the best examples is found in the second chapter and demonstrates how the mills' "wood procurement system" was "actively constructed" as the industry relied upon "the hierarchies of race and class that marked so much of the rural South," as well as "the institutions that governed access to and control over land" (p. 109). Going beyond a simple story of domination by capitalist outsiders, Boyd's approach and the book's major strengths demonstrate the flexibility of capital. Being unable to "simply impose an optimal organizational order on a prostrate region," the industry had to "work with and against" locals to "develop solutions that recombined and re-elaborated vernacular institutions" (p. 224). As an industrial history, the work excellently shows how the pulp and paper industries shaped and were shaped by southern social and environmental contexts.

One of the challenges of this work is that it attempts to tell a wide-ranging history, both spatially and temporally, in a relatively short number of pages. In spite of this, Boyd's sources are up to the task, ranging from traditional archival sources such as scientific, governmental, and industry documents to interviews conducted by the author. Boyd's accomplished research supports this solid regional economic history. But this ambition also detracts somewhat from the [End Page 696] book's overall effectiveness in two ways. First, some threads that the author wants to investigate cannot be fully examined. Race and labor are topics that Boyd acknowledges as essential, but he only explores them insofar as they serve a larger story of industrialism and economic change. Second, although Boyd claims "environment" as one of the book's main topics, the work posits a predictable, given the book's title, declension narrative that reinforces the old industry vs. environment standoff. Moreover, it includes little material analysis and leaves the reader wanting to know more about how the material realities of the southern forests shaped the industry. Despite these detractions, the work remains a well-researched history of industry and region.

Nathan E. Roberts

NATHAN E. ROBERTS teaches history at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is laboring to complete his book manuscript, "The Materiality of Empire: U.S. Forestry in the Philippines, 1900–1950." He also conducts archival research on Lake Washington and its surrounding waterways for a consortium of Indian tribes and Washington state.

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