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American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn Hardcover – March 6, 2006
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Apartment-dwelling urbanites may be surprised to learn how significant lawn care is to the American economy, generating more than $10 billion in annual sales of pesticides, fertilizers and other products. Steinberg, an environmental historian, is aiming for the grassy equivalent of Fast Food Nation, with one key difference—while people know junk food isn't good for them, they may not be aware that most lawn care products are not only unnecessary but may actually harm soil and turf. He particularly damns the lawnmower industry, revealing how manufacturers "worked tirelessly to mislead the American public" for years in order to avoid the expense of installing safety features that could prevent severed fingers. Steinberg's subjects range from the postwar boom in suburban lawns to contemporary debates over noisy leaf blowers, and he mixes cultural history with personal lawn-related experiences in Long Island and Ohio, where some people maintain putting greens in their backyards. (Not surprisingly, Steinberg points out, golf courses are "the most intensively managed lawns in America.") There's plenty of muckraking outrage, but it's delivered in a friendly, engaging voice that might just win over skeptics. 40 illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Infinitely more interesting than watching grass grow, Steinberg's study of grass becomes a rueful and revealing commentary on America's nearly myopic devotion to acquiring and maintaining the perfect lawn. Forget your purple waves of grain; America's predominant landscape feature is a lush carpet of pristine green grass mowed so short it couldn't wave if it wanted to. Tracing the sociological roots of this horticultural phenomenon from the burgeoning post-World War II cookie-cutter suburbs with their postage-stamp lawns to today's manicured, multiacre estates, Steinberg illustrates how and why American home owners have elevated their fascination with this humble plant into an obsessive Grail-like quest. From mowers to blowers, weeds to water, crabgrass to bluegrass, Steinberg dishes the dirt on the products and practices that get results, not all of them in the home owner's--or the planet's--best interest. Balancing his sardonic, tongue-in-cheek wit with an investigative reporter's penchant for revelatory journalism, Steinberg offers an expose that is as entertaining as it is instructive. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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It really needs some editing/proofing though, as it is chock full of typographical errors.
Worth reading for informational and historical reasons. Product exactly as described, perfect condition.
It's a very readable book, full of historical notes, anecdotes, and points about how the grass is NOT always greener; in fact, the "green" thing to do now is put your lawn on a diet, by reducing it, and place other types of foliage that are more beneficial like moss, native plants, and clover. The idea of endless turfgrass has proven to be detrimental. This book is a great motivator to choose alternative ground covers.
Perhaps it isn't as amazing that someone would tackle this verdant subject as that there are actually two books which advertise themselves as a history of the lawn (see also The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession), and that both include a form of the word obsession. It is important to state up front that I have completely missed out on this particular passion - crabgrass, clover and dandelions are welcome in my front yard, as are the ruts underneath the swing-set, the impressions left by my hammock frame, and the inevitable proliferation of mystery grasses growing up through the cracks in my sidewalks.
I give that little bit of personal information because I'm trying to define exactly who I think this book is best suited for: The lawn-owner who has not yet crossed over to the fanatical, but who suspects they may be headed there. (Remember - people who don't have a problem obsessing over their lawn don't sit around wondering if they have a problem obsessing over their lawn.) If you are genuinely interested in your yard, yet are still able to have a sense of humor about your ardor, then this well-researched and sincere history of the lawn, lawn-care, and its future is targeted at you. If, on the other hand, you, like Clint Eastwood, are more likely to target trespassers on your lawn with a double-barrel shotgun, then perhaps there are other avenues open for your reading pleasure. (The Lawn Bible: How to Keep It Green, Groomed, and Growing Every Season of the Year)
Author Ted Steinberg eschews this theological approach and, while avoiding the ready-made opportunity for lampooning the idea, also never forgets that what we're talking about when we talk about lawns is really just grass - no matter what Scotts might want us to think. Divided into three parts, AMERICAN GREEN recounts the history of the lawn as we know it today, the side effects of the search for a perfect green, and finally new trends in the yard mentality. From the English idea of lawns to the hyper-conformity of Levittown; the history of Scotts and TruGreen ChemLawn; the environmental arguments; and the urge to merge with natural grass rather than turf grass, Mr. Steinberg is nothing if not thorough. After reading American Green, there is truly nothing more I want to know about the history of the Lawn.
I think perhaps it is this exhaustive approach that drags the book down in the end. I believe that any subject can be made interesting by a skilled author, but the less-is-more cliche may have worked better in this instance. As it is, AMERICAN GREEN is too much for those interested in something diversionary, but probably not enough for true devotees of the lawn. That leaves a chunk of people who are just right for the book, but who are probably out laying down fertilizer rather than looking for some light reading to round out their hammock-time. Highly recommended for lawn-afficionados; probably of marginal interest to heretics like me.
In this book, Ted Steinberg tells you everything that you might want to know about these lawns. He begins the story with the cookie-cutter homes and lawns of Levittowns. These aspired to reproduce English formal gardens in the New World, but in a mass-produced way. Then Steinberg moves to the spread of lawns across the country, and the extensive use of power lawnmowers, fertilizers and pesticides, and intensive watering. For many Americans, lawn care borders on the obsessive-compulsive, and this is fed by the lawn care industry, especially Scotts. Golf courses represent another, equally compulsive, variation on the home lawn theme.
This book is a well-written expose of the American lawn. It's also quite funny in two ways. First, Americans are funny when they take care of the lawns, so Steinberg can stick just to the facts and be funny. Second, he is good at making funny side comments, often tongue-in-cheek.
There are serious sides. The environmental consequences of the American lawn include intensive water use in the desert southwest, lawn chemical runoff, lawnmower air pollution, leaf-blower noise pollution, and the spread of invasive species at the expense of native species. Lawns also come at a significant cost in safety, thanks to power mowers, especially riding mowers.
After that indictment, Steinberg concludes with a vision of eco-friendly, safe landscaping - - one that even includes lawns.