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Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie Paperback – July 1, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In an exploration of the grasslands of North America that is both sweeping and intimate, Manning makes interesting connections between economics, botany, farming, and democracy. His discussion of the impact of romantic ideals of landscapes upon this biome is insightful, and his travels with botanists, biologists, buffalo and a visit to Ted Turner's ranch put faces and feet on the story. The message: by a careful reading of nature's design, we can more successfully inhabit this and all landscapes. Recommended.

From Publishers Weekly

Our culture's disrespect for grasslands has produced an environmental catastrophe, charges the author. By allowing overgrazing on public lands, our government is wiping out an ecosystem as vital as the Brazilian rain forests. In this sweeping exploration of the prairie, Manning (A Good House) makes an eloquent plea to restore it. Cattle, loss of habitat, fragmentation, climate change and invasion of exotic species have wrought severe damage. Manning takes us from Ted Turner's bison ranch in Montana to Wes Jackson's Land Institute in Kansas; from the Sandos ranch in Nebraska to the Walnut Creek Preserve in Iowa, which is being restored to native tall-grass prairie. Any restoration, he stresses, must include bison. The author urges that we change grazing practices, arguing that ideally there would be bison grazing on open ranges, with cattle as a second choice-but only on large tracts. He states that we need to match agriculture to conditions, instead of remaking the conditions. A thoughtful and provocative look at prairie ecology.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140233881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140233889
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I grew up in Iowa and was given this book a few years ago while living in Manhattan, Kansas. I now live near Fresno, California. Manning starts out by saying that he intended to write about science, politics, and journalism, and ended up with a more personal narrative. To which I say, "of course". This book seemed to me to flesh out for me how patterns of rainfall profoundly influenced the ecology, agriculture, and ultimately the societies of the various places I've lived. For one interested in these issues, I would further suggest (in this order) Wallace Stegner's "Beyond the 100th Meridian", Wes Jackson's "New Roots for Agriculture", Judith Soule and Jon Piper's "Farming in Nature's Image: an Ecological Approach to Agriculture", Ian Frazier's "Great Plains", and Aldo Leopold's "Sand County Almanac". But this book is an excellent start.
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Format: Paperback
First and most important, this book will change the way you think about the American prairie. I live here at the edge of the prairie near Indianapolis, and there are a few spots maintained as native prairie. Manning isn't talking about these little islands but about a huge, free ecosystem and the horrors that we have inflicted upon it and its fauna and flora. I confess that the image of grizzlies chasing elk calves across the grassland is beguiling, and illustrates what we are missing. He makes a persuasive case that we need lots and lots and lots of grassland, maintained as such. Manning has a good story-telling sense, and a good eye for explaining the grassland. You will not look at the prairie in the same way again.

There are some nicely provocative bits. His vision of the prairie rests on bison ranching, with the animals eating native grasses without irrigation, fertilizer, or other capitalist agriculture. As if that's not controversial enough, he makes a serious case that a meat-and-leather prairie economy rests easier on the land than food crops such as wheat or corn. These crops have destroyed the prairie and harm the broader environment because of the extensive irrigation and fertilization required. Obviously, this strategy of making our agriculture conform to the land instead of forcing the land to conform to our agriculture would be a major change for Americans and others around the world..

Manning is not afraid to take the next logical step, and he makes a principled argument against vegetarianism. Eating free-range bison raised on natural grasslands, he argues, would sit more lightly on the ground and would probably use less (petroleum-based) energy. This is not your conventional environmentalist, to say the least.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book terrific. Manning taught me much about the biology of the great American prairie, or what's left of it, as well some of the ways to save it. Unlike other conservationist writers or thinkers, Manning puts a human angle on the subject, pointing out the personal and societal (political, economic) issues. Importantly, though, he spins this tale with an almost poetic quality that is accessible to all levels of readers. He also challenges some of the conventions of some parts of the environmental movement that is refreshing, uplifting and quite meaningful and relevant to all levels of ecological protection.
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Format: Paperback
I have encountered few books like Richard Manning's Grassland. Manning's manifesto - reserved for the final chapters - is audacious, even quirky. Grassland's subtitle, The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie, suggests a reasoned, broad-based analysis, and that is what Richard Manning provides. Nonetheless, his conclusions are breath-taking in their originality. My initial skepticism remains, but Manning does have me thinking about his proposal. Maybe, just maybe, he is on the right track.

The mountain wildernesses with their "charismatic megafauna", deserts, wild rivers, forests, seashores, and wetlands have little difficulty attracting environmental advocates, but how do the grasslands, the largest single biome in North America, fit into this picture?

Manning is slow to unfold his unorthodox proposals, preferring first to educate his readers. Thankfully, Manning's style is more narrative and anecdotal than pedagogical. His topics are wide ranging: Indian cultures, exotic weeds, Pleistocene extinctions, Jefferson's agrarian theory, disappearing aquifers, buffalo hunting, and industrialized farming.

Manning has definite opinions, but he is surprisingly fair; he clearly outlines and explains contrary ideas. I questioned some of his interpretations and occasionally even his facts, but all in all Manning's thesis appears credible.

I had some qualms about revealing Manning's manifesto in absence of his preparatory discussions. Even in context, his proposals are unexpectedly original. With caution, I proceed:

Richard Manning advocates eliminating large scale, industrialized farming and cattle ranching on America's extensive arid and semi-arid grasslands.
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