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Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls

Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls
Robert M. Thorson
Walker & Company
Publication Date: 

cloth, 287 p., $26

Based on the title, you would expect this book to be just about stone walls. What I found was much more.

Robert Thorson begins his story eons ago with the cooling of the Earth and the development of a crust for the planet. Dynamic geological processes are brought to life: the creation of different rocks in all of their variety, their movement many times and their eventual burial in soil. Significantly, Old and New England are sister fragments of a mountain range in Pangaea, split by a rift valley that eventually widened into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the Pilgrims arrived in a land that was geologically like the terrain they left thousands of miles away.

This book then chronicles the complex social, demographic, economic and agricultural developments that culminated in the construction of stone walls during and after the Revolutionary War. New Englanders' lives changed many times. Each era had a different economic imperative and aesthetic perception that influenced the creation of walls. This story is an ongoing one, with efforts to preserve old walls, or clearing them for development, restoring them elsewhere or recycling them into landscape and building materials.

Scant instruction on building a wall is given in this book, and less on its landscape use. This work really provides a narrow strip of the historical continuum on stone walls. Along the way we encounter research on topics as diverse as geology, soil science and colonial interactions with Native Americans. This in-depth examination of a subject in a multidiscipinary way is a perfect format for a layman. Stone by Stone is a superb book in its genius for collecting diverse facts from a rich variety of sources, keeping a reader engaged throughout.

— Barbara G. Mahany, Volunteer, Library, Chicago Botanic Garden