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Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West Paperback – May 17, 1992


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Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West + The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Studies in Environment and History) + Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (May 17, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393308731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393308730
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Cronon's history of 19th-century Chicago is in fact the history of the widespread effects of a single city on millions of square miles of ecological, cultural, and economic frontier. Cronon combines archival accuracy, ecological evaluation, and a sweeping understanding of the impact of railroads, stockyards, catalog companies, and patterns of property on the design of development of the entire inland United States to this date. Although focused on Chicago and the U.S., the general lessons it teaches are of global significance, and a rich source of metaphors for the ways in which colonization of physical space operates differently from, and similarly to, colonization of cyberspace. This is a compelling, wise, thorough--and thoroughly accessible--masterpiece of history writ large. Very Highest Recommendation.

From Publishers Weekly

In a fresh approach that links urban and frontier history, Cronon ( Changes in the Land ) explores the relationship between Chicago, 1848-1893, and the entire West, tracing the path between an urban market and the natural systems that supply it. Examining commodity flows--meat, grain, lumber--and the revolution in transportation and distribution, the book chronicles changes in the landscape: cattle replace buffalo; corn and wheat supplant prairie grasses; entire forests fall to the ax. Thus Wyoming cattle, Iowa corn and Wisconsin white pine come together in Chicago. City and countryside develop in tandem. Cronon notes that gateway cities are a peculiar feature of North American frontier settlements and the chief colonizers of the Western landscape. He compares the world of rural merchants in the pre- and post-railroad eras, and cites the McCormack reaper works to illustrate the sale of manufactured goods to the hinterland. The culmination of this dynamic period is in the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Readers interested in the growth of capitalism will find this an engrossing study. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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The chapters on grain and lumber were my favorite!
S. Fjestad
The distinctive contribution of his book is Cronon's emphasis on how the roots of Chicago's remarkable development lay in the "soil" of its surrounding hinterlands.
Ranney L. Ramsey
This is a fantastic book that was required reading for AP American History in my high school and again in college.
suburbanloki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Gutter-ball on June 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Nature's Metropolis" is first, and foremost a naartive about the rise of Chicago in the 19th century. Being very similar in tone to the author's first book "Changes in the Land" (1983). Cronon seeks to establish in "Nature's Metropolis" that any understanding of the American west can not truly be comprehended unless one looks at the dominant role that Chicago played in ordering the landscape between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains. By arguing that the two (city and countryside) are linked, Cronon is directly refuting the Frontier Thesis of Fredick jackson Turner - which held that the frontier (countryside) existed in isolation of the city. This is then the major premise of the book; that human actions are very much determined by the landscape.
In building his case Cronon presents some excellent case studies of the Rail+Canal, wheat, forestry and meat packing industries in Chicago, and how they helped to turn the city into a first-rank metropolitan centre. Chapter #3 on wheat is especially interesting as Cronon describes how the Board of Trade revolutionized the exchange of grain by turning the physical crop into an abstract commodity that could be easily traded amongst merchants, traders and farmers. Central to this was of course the implementation of a standardized grading system.
A final note, one of the more intriguing aspects of the book was Cronon's use of the terms "first" and "second nature". These are two concepts which he explains in the preface are derived from Hegelian and Marxist interpretations of nature - yet he does not give the reader too much more of an insight.
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51 of 51 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on August 13, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are going to be other reviewers who can provide more erudite reviews-- reviews better grounded in the study of cities or economic history. I am nothing more than an average reader who enjoys non-fiction.

First of all, potential readers should be aware that this is an economic history. It follows flows of goods and capital rather than following the lives and careers of the men and women of Chicago. I knew what to expect, but for people looking for a more standard history of Chicago this may make Nature's Metropolis difficult to engage.

I really enjoyed reading the book. It stretched my understanding of the economic growth of cities and raised issues that I had not considered about the role of the city *in* nature (not as opposed to nature). The examination of elements that made Chicago into both a city and The City was fascinating. The chapters tracing grain, lumber and meat as goods were clearly written and underscored the central theses.

I guess it goes without saying that Nature's Metropolis is far from a light read, but that does not make it less rewarding. As someone who does not have a background in history, I only longingly wished that the bibliography had been annotated to help support further reading.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I remember, many years ago, standing next to an Illinois corn field at the intersection 212th and Cicero and wondering how Chicago's street grid system had worked its way so far into the country side. What in the world did this corn field and the intersection of State and Madison in downtown Chicago have to do with each other? This book explained it to me along the economic history of Chicago -- a history that went a lot farther in explaining the citys size, influence, and even existence than the biographies Marshal Field, Potter Palmer, the Colonel, and the rest.
Great read.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Greene VINE VOICE on June 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you prefer your history to be the story of human beings, their struggles, and their triumphs, this book will disappoint. Cronon presents the history of Chicago and the midwest as the history of commodities and trade. It's an interesting approach, and he shows the global implications of many of his insights-- he correctly observes that much of what he demonstrates with Chicago could also be shown with other cities as well. Some of his insights didn't strike me as being nearly as unexpected as he seems to think they are (the interdependence on commodities wholesalers and their markets, for example), but most of his ideas are well-argued and supported. Ultimately this is not so much about Chicago's history as it is about using Chicago and the west as a case study to show how cities grow, and how city and country are inter-related.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ranney L. Ramsey on April 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a very distinctive, well researched and argued book about how Chicago developed. Starting with a standard model of Urban Economics - the von Thunen model of central place theory- the author quickly moves beyond it. The distinctive contribution of his book is Cronon's emphasis on how the roots of Chicago's remarkable development lay in the "soil" of its surrounding hinterlands. He carries this argument further by examining how the transportation and communication revolutions of the 19th century - the railroad and the telegraph - created unique advanatages for Chicago relative to other competitive metropolitan areas (such as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee) and finally, how in turn, new metropolitan areas (such as KC, Omaha) arose to steal aways Chicago's dominance.

As other reviewers have noted, the book offers really fascinating, detailed discussions and original research on - for example - the grain and lumber industries as well as capital flows in the midwestern US creatively using court records on corporate failures to track the flow of investments.

This books contains a rich lode of intellectual wealth and it is well worth the effort to mine it.
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