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Losing It All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape (Florida History and Culture) Hardcover – March 27, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


...Belleville poignantly reveals how the words of the old Joni Mitchell song have become a grim reality in central Florida, as his traditional Cracker home and rural neighborhood give way to suburban strip malls. -- Library Journal

...Is easy to understand because the title says it all...tells not only Belleville's story, but [reader's] as well. -- Lakeland Ledger, March 7, 2006[s] and write[s] persuasively about the seemingly endless march of development and the poignant trade-offs involved... -- Charleston Post and Courier, April 23, 2006

Belleville...makes the case there is still beauty and wonder in the Sunshine state... -- Folio Weekly

Chronicles the destruction near [Belleville's] home and surrounding wilderness areas [and] the historical transformation of the area... -- Grist Magazine blog, March 24, 2006

For those who love old Florida, this is a profoundly melancholy book. Read it and weep. -- Boca Raton News, March 17, 2006

The title says it all. -- Tampa Tribune, March 30, 2006

Uncontrolled development is an issue not just for the Sunshine State but for America as a whole. -- Library Journal, December 2006

…reads like poetry and feels like a prayer. -- Orlando Weekly, March 30, 2006

Book Description

As development threatens his very sense of place, an award-winning nature writer finds hope in the rediscovery and appreciation of his historic Cracker farmhouse.
“Bill Belleville writes gorgeously and straight from the heart. This is a compelling and insightful book, and it's impossible to read it without feeling sadness, outrage and awe.
--Carl Hiaasen, author of Hoot, Skinny Dip, and Tourist Season
“Bill Belleville writes about the old Florida, the real Florida, like a poet or maybe a preacherman--certainly a prophet. He's up there with Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and William Bartram, a chronicler of the green and blue glories of the palmetto scrub, the springs and the woods. Best of all, he's righteously angry about how the place Bartram called "a glorious apartment in the sovereign palace of the Creator" is being wrecked in the name of "progress." But as long as Belleville keeps turning out exquisite, moving and beautiful books like this, there may just be hope.” --Diane Roberts, author of Dream State: Eight Generations Of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans And Other Florida Wildlife
“An eloquent and bittersweet goodbye to Florida.”--Jeff Klinkenberg, author of Seasons of Real Florida (UPF, 2004)
“A work soaked in the shadow of change. . . . An important book in the personal history of a fast-changing state.”--John Lane, author of Waist Deep in Black Water
Losing It All to Sprawl is the poignant chronicle of award-winning nature writer Bill Belleville and how he came to understand and love his historic Cracker farmhouse and “relic” neighborhood in central Florida, even as it was all wiped out from under him. Belleville’s narrative is eloquent, informed, and impassioned, a saga in which tractors and backhoes trample through the woods next to his home in order to build the backbone of Florida sprawl—the mall.
As heavy machinery encircles Belleville and his community--the noise growing louder and closer, displacing everything Belleville has called home for the past fifteen years--he tells a story that is much older, 10,000 years older. The story stretches back to the Timucua and the Mayaca living in harmony with Florida’s environment; the conquistadors who expected much from, but also feared, this “land of flowers”; the turn-of-the-century tourists “modernizing” and “climatizing” the state; the original Cracker families who lived in Belleville’s farmhouse. In stark contrast to this millennia-long transformation is the whiplash of unbridled growth and development that threatens the nearby wilderness of the Wekiva River system, consuming Belleville’s home and, ultimately, his very sense of place.
In Florida, one of the nation’s fastest growing states (and where local and state governments encourage growth), balancing use with preservation is an uphill battle. Sprawl spreads into the countryside, consuming not just natural lands but Old Florida neighborhoods and their unique history. In Losing It All to Sprawl, Belleville accounts for the impacts—social, political, natural, personal—that a community in the crosshairs of unsustainable growth ultimately must bear, but he also offers Floridians, and anyone facing the blight of urban confusion, the hope that can be found in the rediscovery and appreciation of the natural landscape.

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Product Details

  • Series: Florida History and Culture
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida; 1st edition (March 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813029287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813029283
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,393,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Belleville is an Florida-based author and documentary filmmaker specializing in nature, conservation, and "sense of place." His genre is creative non-fiction, and his latest title is "The Peace of Blue: Water Journeys", released on Sept. 30, 2014. "Peace" is a collection of Bill's real-life stories---narrative essays---in which he describes his experiences hiking, paddling, snorkeling and diving in a wide variety of locales in Florida and the larger bio-region of the Antilles. All of the destinations have some relationship to water---if they are not rivers, springs, swamps, and oceans, they are places where water has historically played a major role in shaping the landscape of that place. While some of the stories may seem adventurous, Bill doesn't play up that element. Instead, he records the experience in exacting and vibrant detail, and reaches inside to honestly examine his own feelings about the place. Within this context, Bill often tries to understand how culture(s) have been shaped by the energy of that landscape over time.

Bill's previous book, "Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost and Found in the State of Dreams" won a National Outdoor Book Award for the category of Natural History Literature. (Former winers include Robert Michael Pyle, Farley Mowat, David Attenborough, and Roderick Nash.)

Additionally, his book "Losing it all to Sprawl" was named one of the "Best Books of the Year" by the Library Journal.

In addition to his own seven books, Bill's also contributed essays and articles to several national anthologies including "Salon's Wanderlust: Real Life Tales of Adventure and Romance"; "The Best Travel Writing of 2006: True Stories From Around the World"; "Adrenaline 2000: The Year's Best Stories of Adventure and Survival"; "Naked: Writers Uncover the Way we Live on Earth"; "Discovery Travel Adventures: Scuba Diving"; "Discovery Travel Adventures: American Safari"; the Introduction for the updated reprint of the environmental classic "From Eden to Sahara" by John Kunkel Small"; and a chapter/essay for "William Bartram: Bartram's Living Legacy: The Travels and the Nature of the South".

An excerpt from "River of Lakes" also appears in the anthology "The Wild Heart of Florida." Although Bill considers himself a nature writer, others have also placed him in the category of "eco-adventure" because he integrates nature and the related culture into his narratives. New York Times Bestselling author Carl Hiaasen has said: "Bill Belleville writes gorgeously and straight from the heart."

Bill's also scripted several films for Equinox Documentaries, Inc., including the PBS documentary "In Marjorie's Wake" and the Emmy-winning "Wekiva: Legacy or Loss?" and has traveled widely overseas for the Discovery Channel. For more complete information, see his Authors' Guild website:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Fredric M. Hitt on March 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Fifteen years the author lived in a 'cracker' house at the end of a dirt road and shared the solitude enjoyed by former occupants for more than seventy years. It was a perfect hide-away for a freelance environmental writer and film maker, where privacy was respected, where nature was sufficient unto itself and its creatures, and where the only compromises with modernity were indoor plumbing and electricity. Even the window unit air conditioner was redundant in a house designed in simpler times, well shaded and with natural cross ventilation.

One day the shrill back-up signal of earth-moving equipment shattered the tranquility, a nails-on-blackboard, unsettling sound that forewarned of loss of innocence to come. A new mega-mall is planned nearby, and already the landscape is denuded and sculpted to accommodate the thousands of cars, SUV's and service vehicles that would respond. "If you build it, they will come." (With apologies to W. P. Kinsella.)

Bill Belleville is an award-winning writer, the author of River of Lakes, A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River, Deep Cuba and Sunken Cities, Sacred Cenotes and Golden Sharks. His film making credits include an Emmy award for Wekiva: Legacy or Loss.

It was Belleville's cracker house and his story, and the story of those who lived there before. But in a larger sense it is my story and yours, all of us who have witnessed the sacrifice of the playgrounds of childhood and the sanctuaries of memory at the altar of 'progress.' But we don't have to write it. Bill Belleville has done it for us with the same beauty and poignancy that marked his earlier works, but this time with righteous anger born of loss.

A wonderful, compelling, intensely personal book that reminds the rest of us of what we, too, have lost, and leaves us asking "What price, progress?"
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on June 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Bill Belleville is a documentary filmmaker and author specializing in conservation: how work has appeared extensively in magazines, has been anthologized in collections, and he's written many books, but LOSING IT ALL TO SPRAWL: HOW PROGRESS ATE MY CRACKER LANDSCAPE hits closer to home than many of his other books. Bill Belleville writes of his historic Cracker farmhouse and old neighborhood of central Florida even as it's being wiped out: any who have visited the area in the last few years will readily acknowledge the truths and observations in LOSING IT ALL TO SPRAWL. In addition to documenting the underlying social, political and economic forces at work in promoting sprawl, Belleville offers Floridians and others hope for appreciating nature.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Mitchell on September 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My grandma says "there won't be a blade of grass left." Belleville explains why. A personal story of man who finds the true Florida, a people who scratched out a living in the early days and survived many hurricanes, only to be swept away today by developers. Highly recommended reading for anyone who is fighting urban sprawl.
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