The Wood Age: How Wood Shaped the Whole of Human History

By Roland Ennos

When our ancestors came down from the trees, they brought the trees with them and remade the world.

‘A stunning book on the incalculable debt humanity owes wood…’ John Carey, The Sunday Times

How did the descendants of small arboreal primates manage to stand on our own two feet, become top predators and take over the world?

In The Wood Age, Roland Ennos shows that the key to humanity’s success has been our relationship with wood. He takes us on a sweeping ten-million-year journey from great apes who built their nests among the trees to early humans who depended on wood for fire, shelter, tools and weapons; from the structural design of wheels and woodwinds, to the invention of paper and the printing press.

Drawing together recent research and reinterpreting existing evidence from fields as far-ranging as primatology, anthropology, archaeology, history, architecture, engineering and carpentry, Ennos charts for the first time how our ability to exploit wood’s unique properties has shaped our bodies and minds, societies and lives. He also charts the dislocating effects of industrialism and explains how rediscovering traditional ways of growing, using and understanding trees can help combat climate change and bring our lives into better balance with nature.

In the bestselling tradition of Harari’s Sapiens, this unique history of humanity tells the story of our evolution, our civilisations and our future through the lens of the material that made us. We are products of the Wood Age.

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 17 Feb 2022
Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-0-00-831887-1
Roland Ennos is a visiting professor of biological sciences at the University of Hull. He is the author of successful textbooks on plants, biomechanics and statistics, while his popular book Trees, which is published by the Natural History Museum, is now in its second edition in both the UK and US. He is an enthusiast for natural history, archaeology and early music, and lives with his partner and several hundred ferns near Hull, in East Yorkshire.

”'A stunning book on the incalculable debt humanity owes to wood …Roland Ennos’s knowledge of all things arboreal is vast and intricate. He is a professor of biology at the University of Hull and the author of several books, among them the Natural History Museum’s official guide to trees. But The Wood Age is something different ” - nothing less than a complete reinterpretation of human history and prehistory, and it is written with enormous verve and pinpoint clarity … No review can match the richness of Ennos’s book. There are chapters or sections on coal and charcoal, pottery kilns, modern wooden buildings, techniques of melting and smelting metals, the history of shipbuilding, wind and watermills, deforestation and much else … I felt like cheering.’ John Carey, The Sunday Times

”'A lively history of biology, mechanics and culture that stretches back 60 million years… A specialist in the mechanics of wood, Ennos has a fierce love for his topic” - Nature

‘Passionate … In this very readable historical survey, Ennos argues that not only do we need to reassess the role wood has played in our history, but by embracing a new age of wood, we can help to reset our broken relationship to the natural world … [A] fascinating ‘wood-centred view’ of our history’ P.D. Smith, Guardian -

”'Wonderful” - i news

”'An eye-opening piece of environmental history … Excellent … Comes highly recommended” - The Inquisitive Biologist

”'Ennos, a professor at the University of Hull and a specialist in the mechanical properties of trees, shares his insatiable curiosity with us. He applies his sharp eye for details, and he does so entertainingly” - Washington Post

”'Ennos’s special love and concern is for things made from trees … The principles of every significant technology, from tree-felling and carpentry to shipbuilding and papermaking, are described with a precise, almost mesmerizing detail” - New York Times Book Review