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The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer Hardcover – April 20, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (April 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684845016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684845012
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #385,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Victor Davis Hanson, a California professor of classical history and a sixth-generation orchard-keeper, revisits an old tradition in American letters, writing social criticism from an agrarian point of view that takes the farmer to be the foundation of any democracy worthy of the name. That Jeffersonian argument is not widely aired these days, apart from the essays of Wendell Berry and a few like-minded nature writers, and it takes on a specifically political force in Hanson's thoughtful, sometimes angry meditations on the decline of farming and the virtuous values that farming once instilled.

The enemies of farming are many, Hanson declares. They number not only drought, insects, fire, and fungi, but also political leaders who are content to watch the fertile countryside be carved into arid seas of look-alike homes, housing consumers who demand factory-issued foods in all seasons. Their demands are met--and, barring disaster, will continue to be met--by corporate agriculture, which, Hanson holds, values appearance over taste and prizes short-term profits over the long-term health of the land. The ascendance of that corporate system of food production means that fewer and fewer small farms can survive, and that agriculture will seem an ever more alien enterprise to the coming generations, conducted far off in the hinterland, "the corporate void where no sane man wishes to live."

This all means, Hanson suggests, that the farmer of old who knew how to fix tractors and fences, how to wage war on predators while shunning the use of poisons, and how to live self-reliantly is a thing of the past. The disappearance of that American archetype is all to the bad. As Hanson writes, "We have lost our agrarian landscape and with it the insurance that there would be an autonomous, outspoken, and critical group of citizens eager to remind us of the current fads and follies of the day." Resounding with righteous fury and good common sense, his book is a call to turn back the clock and set a more civilized table. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

What does the imminent death of the family farm mean to the average American? A great deal, declares Hanson, who as both a farmer and a classics professor (California State University-Fresno) imbues this provocative, eloquent polemic with personal experience plus an unshakeable agrarian vision that harks back to Greece, Rome and the early American republic. Agribusiness, says Hanson, has obliterated the rural culture that once was the matrix of American society. The superabundance bestowed by corporate mega-farms, he adds, comes at a price: factory farms, propped up by mostly hidden government support and dependent on toxic pesticides and fertilizers, pollute the air, water and soil as they turn out bland, tasteless produce for a voracious, rootless and soulless consumerist society. Hanson (Fields Without Dreams) is totally unsentimental about small-scale independent farming; far from being tranquil, bucolic and simple, he reports, it is a brutal, dirty, maddening, messy, always difficult, sometimes deadly pursuit. Yet family farming, he insists, cultivates bedrock values--reliance on self and family, distrust of complexity and bureaucracy, skepticism of taxation, willingness to stand up to evil (whether the enemy be insects, weeds or monopolistic landowners)--values that are integral to a resilient, egalitarian democracy but that he believes are now in short supply. Hanson models these impassioned essays on Cr?vecoeur's 1782 classic Letters from an American Farmer and sprinkles his barbed critique of contemporary American culture with allusions to Virgil, Pericles, Pindar, Euripides and Thucydides. Even if readers don't plan to go back to nature, his feisty, curmudgeonly, challenging, ruminative essays provide much food for thought. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is Professor of Greek and Director of the Classics Program at California State University, Fresno. He is the author or editor of many books, including Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (with John Heath, Free Press, 1998), and The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999). In 1992 he was named the most outstanding undergraduate teacher of classics in the nation.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Erik J. Fortmeyer on November 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those few books that I enjoyed and thought about so much that I bought six copies from Amazon to hand out to friends who I believed would also appreciate Hanson's efforts. It really is that exceptional! The thing most notable about "The Land Is Everything" is how much response it will provoke out of you if are a "thinking type". That doesn't mean you will love or hate it all...you will, however, THINK! Despite the definite order the book is arranged in, you will get a sense that much of it was almost written in streams of thought. Hanson seems to meander on tangents at times and in other places even rants but, this stream is still flowing briskly! He focusses in on "Man versus Nature", "Man versus Man", and "Man versus Self" in the realm of small-scale farming.
Hanson is uniquely qualified to write about the subject of farming and it's effects on character. He is a fifth generation grape farmer in California while also a Professor of Classics at CSU Fresno. The clincher is that he can convey his beliefs to paper with a VENGEANCE! The crux of this book is showing how the decline of self-reliant family farms in America is sapping the core character of what an "American" was in our first 200 years. He passionately describes the life, both good and bad, of the American farmer and gives numerous examples of issues that influence his/her character and culture. The fact that America, up until fairly recently, was predominantly a land of farmers is elaborated on at length. Hanson admires and respects the ways the brutal realities of farming the land force farmers to stay literally rooted in hard work, ethics, and honesty even if it sometimes makes them crazy!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By RML on June 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a graduate student in the university (stumbling along the first steps of academia) while at the same time dragging my small farm roots along, I find Victor Hanson's appraisal and insightful commentary frighteningly real to much of my own experience and upbringing. The Land Was Everything is exceptional and comprehensive in outlining a picture of rural life and ideology that most urbanites and farmers alike are not consciously aware of. He writes about the loss of the small farm agrarian but mostly he mourns the loss of characteristics and qualities that come from the farmer, his work, his life, and his toil. To most readers (the growing sea of concrete city folk) his words and stories feel alien and distant and sadly this further proves the author's point. Hanson's unique and diminishing perspective reads as a bitingly honest commentary about where we (as a nation) have come from, where we owe our success, the price of our success, and where we're going in this new millenium. Grounded in the fields and orchards of farming and agrarian life, Hanson demonstrates his intellect and skills of observation in the manner of a scholarly writer and though agrarian and intellectual often antagonize one another within the writing, he is successful at utilizing them to expose and comment on the other. If understanding and consciousness about any of this is the reward for the loss of the small American Farmer, then it's all I could ask for as a reader who wishes that others would pick up The Land Was Everything, listen to its pages, remember the voices of their past, and try to understand the tragedy that has already occurred.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Bickart on June 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Agrarianism goes down to a hard and dusty death. The realities of growing commodities as a family in California are tough. Hanson does know what he's talking about, contra reader S.M. Stirling, below (I wonder if this fellow even read the book, his comments are so off, not to mention being practically a personal attack on Hanson); he lives the reality of this difficult life while also being a classical scholar. He seems uniquely qualified to illuminate the Greek and Latin roots of agrarianism as the foundation of democracy, and with a lifelong interest in the classics, I found this very interesting; I learned a lot. I highly recommend this book, which I found compelling...
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