Friday, October 15, 2010

Nature's Metropolis by William Cronon~★★★★1/2

Author: William Cronon
Title: Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
Release Date: May 17th, 1992
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Cover: "In his groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West and its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of the city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and transformed American culture. The world that emerged is our own." 

Taryn's Review: I judged this book by its cover. I looked at it and groaned to myself and thought, "Ugh, what a boring book this is going to be!" Well, it was a nice surprise to find myself enjoying this book; at times, I was even engrossed in the book!

Cronon made the argument that both city and country are human abstractions and that both are dependent on one another to exist. Both ideas are completely shaped by man and Cronin argued that the country is no more natural than the city. I'll be honest, it slightly broke my heart to realize that the cornfields, the pastures, some plants, and some animals weren't natural to the landscape that we think of as being perfectly natural. It made me think about the time I was in a state park, oohing and awing over the trees and how old they must be when I came across a sign that said the trees were all planted in the 1930s by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) as part of the work relief program during the Great Depression. Thus, Cronon argued there are two natures, 1st and 2nd. 1st was the completely natural nature untouched by man and 2nd was after man altered it.

Cronon focused on the grain industry, livestock and meat industry, and capital flow in and out of Chicago, as well as the impact of railroads and Chicago's role in developing the "Great West." A great DVD to supplement this book is PBS's Chicago: City of the Century. I had seen the DVD previous to reading the book and really enjoyed it, especially the section on meat and how freezing meat and shipping it around the country changed meat purchasing in the United States forever. My only complaint about the book was that I wished Cronon would have focused more the canal craze that swept America and its impact on Chicago (he touched on it, but very briefly).

This book is probably best suited for the history people, but perhaps someone who has a love of Chicago or economics might really enjoy the book. Again, I was surprised by how much I liked it, and you might surprise yourself, too!

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