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The Last Farmer: An American Memoir Paperback – November 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A stunning portrait. . . . Kohn went looking for one story—his father’s—only to find his own.”—Chicago Tribune
(Chicago Tribune)

“What makes this book soar. . . . is its scrupulous specificity, details so gritty one can feel the soil between one’s toes, and the deeply felt story of a prodigal son’s evolving relationship with his father.”—WashingtonPost Book World
(Washington Post Book World)

“Full of achingly intense insights. And it’s beautifully written.”—Chicago Sun Times
(Chicago Sun Times)

From the Inside Flap

"A stunning portrait. . . . Kohn went looking for one story—his father’s—only to find his own."—Chicago Tribune. "What makes this book soar . . . is its scrupulous specificity, details so gritty one can feel the soil between one’s toes, and the deeply felt story of a prodigal son’s evolving relationship with his father."—Washington Post Book World. "Full of achingly intense insights. And it’s beautifully written."—Chicago Sun Times. "The Last Farmer is objective, compassionate, and true."—Los Angeles Times.

Howard Kohn’s The Last Farmer is a memoir of his father’s last seasons working the Michigan farm where they were both raised. It is a place that Kohn, a former editor at Rolling Stone, has left many times but he keeps coming back.

Fredrick Kohn had farmed the family homestead in the Saginaw Valley since his return from World War II. After forty years, with advancing age, failing health, bad weather, falling prices, pesky oil drillers, creeping suburban sprawl, and the exodus of his children, he starts to wonder if maybe the time has come to stop. The habits of a lifetime of hard work and economy are not easy to give up. Nor are the independence, the small gratifications, and the countless responsibilities that are the traditional farmer’s lot.

The Last Farmer is a rare story of a father’s determination and adaptation, a son’s realizations about his father, and a family’s love for the land that leads to understanding, rather than tragedy.

Howard Kohn is a former senior editor of Rolling Stone and the author of Who Killed Karen Silkwood?

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803278152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803278158
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #854,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book that examines a father and son relationship in a Midwestern farming community. The struggles between generations and the authors own internal conflicts brought me to tears. The author captures the German-Lutheran morality and displays it affectionately. I loved this book because it showed the difficulty in following ones own dream, perhaps at the cost of someone elses dream. How to be true to oneself and find respect for making lifes difficult decisions.
My father gave me this book to read several years ago and it sat in my desk unread. Two years ago, my father passed away, and I just now read the book. How I wish I had read it when he was alive. My thanks to Howard Kohn for writing such a wonderful book, one I wish I had written.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Reg Morton on February 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
The Last Farmer: An American Memoir

I awoke early this moring,as many times before, lay there thinking of a book i read so many years ago, The Last Farmer. A young friend, at the time, gave me the book to read. Leaving a strong impression, i never forgot what it had to say.

Almost on a daily basis today we read about the rapid changes in Agriculture. Chemical use that is paralizing the soil, bug infestations, early muaturity resulting from weak plants, a general lack of continuity with what historically was proven to be sustainable.

It can hardly be called "farming" anymore, but rather industrial agriculture. Farming by definition not only was producing food, but was a general way of life. Teddy Roosevelt was frightened to think if we lost this fabric of society, we will be loosing the intangible virtures that built this country and every small community in it.

Today, even with vital information so well described in this book, we as indidivuals feel as victims when it comes to even thinking of changing course. With several multi coroporation giants controlling our food, we have surrendered before even starting.

Think in terms of lifestye, and gradually work food into your life plan. I left years ago for what then was an abandoned farm house. Raised a lovely family of three girls, enjoyed my own water and a lot of my own food. But most importantly learned that "less is more." What really is to be enjoyed in life is readily available to everyone. Watching a garden capture the sunlight, a new born mule struggling to find its mothers milk. I now use her and her sister to plow, mow, and for tranportation on short trips.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Debra Daniels-zeller on May 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is captivating from beginning to end. I've recommended it to many people--what great character descriptions and such a moving story! Howard Kohn left his family farm for a writing career, and though the theme of this book seems to be change and Kohn details many challenges farmers face today, it's the characters that grab you. His stubborn farmer father is a truly memorable character, but the best part of this book was Kohn's surprising realization near the end that he was actually a lot like his father and that "writing and farming are endeavors of the solitary driven soul, driving against the odds." An inspiring book for memoir writers and local food advocates. A timeless book that will stay on my bookshelf for a long time!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dwight on September 9, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kohn writes in a style that drew me in and left me wanting more. This was an honest, open introspection that revealed as much about the community in which he grew up as it did about his father, family and himself. A great read! I enjoyed it very much.
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Format: Paperback
Though this book was written in the middle 1980s and hearkens back to a life that has all-but vanished, it feels relevant still today. Howard Kohn is writing about what we hear about today, reminding us that we have been unable to address these challenges for several decades: the harms of mega-agriculture, overuse of pesticides, risks of monocultural fields, destroyed communities, and even the energy industry buying drilling rights and ruining farmland. It was all happening in the Saginaw Valley in Michigan a long time ago.

But just as the book has a sociological-economic relevance today, it's also a deeply personal book. It is not a diatribe about the death of the family farm, though that is one of the prominent themes. It really is a memoir of a prodigal son who comes home to see what parts of his upbringing have molded him as a man, and which parts he can bring back to life.

In many ways, the book does feel as if it was written 150 years ago. When the book's author Howard Kohn was born soon after WWII, his family did not have indoor plumbing in their farmhouse. Though they added it by the mid-1950s, they didn't seem to ever get around to cooking and heating without wood as their primary energy source. Kohn describes wintertime visits back home when he and his father (in his 60s) would spend hours cutting, splitting and hauling wood. The chores with which Kohn grew up are unimaginable to most of us, and it's remarkable to read about this sophisticated magazine journalist slipping back into haying, gathering chickens' eggs, and hooking up pulleys and belts to antiquated engines. While Kohn doesn't say it, those years on the farm must have given him a physical stamina, competence and confidence that did him a great deal of good in his profession and his life.
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