Nature's EvilA Cultural History of Natural Resources
Nature's Evil
A Cultural History of Natural Resources
Translated by Sara Jolly

This bold and wide-ranging book views the history of humankind through the prism of natural resources – how we acquire them, use them, value them, trade them, exploit them. History needs a cast of characters, and in this story the leading actors are peat and hemp, grain and iron, fur and oil, each with its own tale to tell.

The uneven spread of available resources was the prime mover for trade, which in turn led to the accumulation of wealth, the growth of inequality and the proliferation of evil. Different sorts of raw material have different political implications and give rise to different social institutions. When a country switches its reliance from one commodity to another, this often leads to wars and revolutions. But none of these crises goes to waste – they all lead to dramatic changes in the relations between matter, labour and the state.

Our world is the result of a fragile pact between people and nature. As we stand on the verge of climate catastrophe, nature has joined us in our struggle to distinguish between good and evil. And since we have failed to change the world, now is the moment to understand how it works.

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  • October 2021
  • 300 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $35.00
  • 9781509547586
  • Open eBook $28.00
  • 9781509547609
Table of Contents



Part 1.  History of Matter

Chapter 1.  Cry Fire

Chapter 2.  Grain’s Way

Chapter 3.  The Remains of Foreign Bodies

Chapter 4.  Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Chapter 5. Fibres

Chapter 6. Metals


Part 2. History of Ideas


Chapter 7. Resources and Commodities

Chapter 8. Resource Projects

Chapter 9. The Mercantile Pump

Chapter 10. The Resources that Failed


Part 3. History of Energy


Chapter 11. Peat

Chapter 12. Coal

Chapter 13. Oil


Conclusion. Leviathan or Gaia





About the Author
Alexander Etkind is Professor of History at the European University Institute.
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‘Provocative, insightful and informative, Etkind explores the cultural, economic and political institutions built on the humble foundations of commodities such as hemp, coal and wheat. The ideas of matter and the matter of ideas leap to life in his pages. Readers will find themselves rethinking their notions of civilisation, its origins and future.’
Edward Lucas, formerly senior editor at The Economist and author of The New Cold War

‘Etkind’s book is a treasure trove of ideas about the material, cultural and political lives of natural resources. An utterly original and fascinating blend of intellectual, ecological and moral history. A great read, not to be missed!’
Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research, author of Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory

‘In detailed chapters on grain, animal products, sugar, hemp, metals, peat, coal and oil, historian Alexander Etkind explores how nature and its commodification has shaped states and societies, as the pursuit of power and wealth has degraded people and despoiled the planet.’

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