9780195140101 / 0195140109

Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History


Publisher:Oxford University Press, USA



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About the book:

"This book will try to change the way you think about American history," writes Ted Steinberg in the opening line of Down to Earth. That's an ambitious claim, but not far off the mark. His fascinating book is essentially an environmental history of the United States, with the author paying particular attention to how elements of nature became commodities and thereby isolated Americans from the natural world. Readers don't have to subscribe to this neo-Marxist concept in order to appreciate Steinberg's observations about everything from the old-time urban problem of horse excrement ("the nineteenth-century equivalent of auto pollution") to the massive amounts of garbage produced by fast-food chains (McDonald's, he says, requires "an area equivalent in size to more than 450,000 football fields" to supply its paper needs). He also tells what may be the first-ever natural history of the Civil War. This may sound idiosyncratic, and to some extent it is, yet Steinberg weaves it all together and makes the underappreciated point that "it is quite simply wrong to view the natural world as an unchanging backdrop to the past." It changes all the time, he writes, and it has shaped Americans in ways that few of them understand. --John Miller

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