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American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn Hardcover – March 6, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; 1st edition (March 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060843
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,064,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Liesenfelt on September 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a reader of Crabgrass Frontier many years ago, I always knew that our lawns today are much, much different than what Americans of the first 150 years would know and while sitting through a recent City Council meeting in which it was determined that one subdivision was watering their lawns with about 14 feet of water a year, I knew there had to be a better way to maintain your lawn. Steinberg takes you from the history of lawns to history of lawn care. Along the way, Steinberg exposes you to some of the obsessive behavior of lawn care fanatics to the efforts of the anti-leaf blower campaigns. Steinberg exposes that most of our green lawns and lawn care habits are formed by marketing of companies likes Scotts and LawnChem or rely on plentiful low cost labor. Steinberg takes the lawn mower industry to task over mower safety (in a chapter that can be hard to read, especially if you have kids). Towards the end, Steinberg even takes on the native plant supporters, before telling you about his father's "Enlightenment Lawn."

As one who doesn't fertilize, water and spread bug killer on the lawn excessively, I can feel a bit alone in the neighborhood, however, Steinberg's book lets me know that I have plenty of company
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Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant book from one of the greatest environmental historians writing today. Combining muck-raking expose, insightful cultural and social history, and a wonderful sense of humor, it is a real page-turner. It will change the way you look at your -- and your neighbor's -- front yard forever.
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Format: Paperback
This book makes it clear that Americans are very odd people, at least when it comes to lawns. Not only do Americans like to have patches of green around their homes, but they like *big* patches of green that require lots of attention to keep green.

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.
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Format: Paperback
But were afraid to ask.

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. (
...Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the most entertaining and informative books I have read in years. Steinberg, a clearly gifted author, has taken a seemingly mundane topic and written something that has depth, is interesting, and very humorous. I thoroughly enjoyed his writing style. I will read it again in the future.
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