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Showing 1-10 of 27 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 83 reviews
on October 22, 2014
As my wife considered a drive into eastern Montana, a friend who knows this part of the country told us this is an important book to read. We both read it. We both enjoyed it. It tells us a lot about the experience of the homesteaders of 100 years ago as they were encouraged to homestead, experienced some success then some setbacks then some comebacks and eventual failure in most cases. The story is fascinating. The problem to me is that the book seems to spend too much time in the present, particularly in following the steps of the refugees from eastern Montana west and further wet and eventually to Seattle in the current day. I think the best parts are on the plains of Montana. Despite those concerns there is no denying that I liked the book.
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on February 26, 2013
Living in Montana & having a mother born in the northeastern part of the state who told us many a story of
'baking sun,' blizzards and wolves, I am quite familiar with all the towns & locals mentioned
in this book. The author brings Montana history alive, busts some myths about homesteading and
introduces the reader to some real Montana 'characters.' The only inaccuracy is his mention of the
Agricultural College in Missoula. This is wrong. The University of Montana is in Missoula and is NOT
the land grant, agriculture college. That is located at MSU in Bozeman, Mt. Makes one wonder about
his other factual accuracy. All in all, a must read for Montana history lovers.
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on June 7, 2012
The book provides a good history of the settling and unsettling of the American Northern Prairie. The mixed timeline and tracking of certain representative families drive the story. When the focus is on the Wollastons, the story is riveting. The rest provides good background. The book did cause me to look at some maps of Montana and surrounding states and I suggest having good ones available should you decide to read this.

The book also left many unanswered questions. What was going on before the settlers arrived? What was the story of the settling of Canada across the border? How was that story different? What happened to the railroads that helped create the boom? In answering some of these and other questions, the book could have been better.
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on March 17, 2006
Both my parents are from central Montana, locally called the 'high line' and, as a youngster, I well recall my grandparents repetitive re-telling of their hardships and triumphs in settling the 'Bad Land' Mr. Raban recounts in his intriguing narrative. As I read Raban's heart-rending account of couple's dreams blowing away with the dust, I remember my maternal grandmother's lament that anytime during the first five years or so if she and my grandfather could have returned to their Swedish enclave in eastern Minnesota, they would have without so much as a backward glance. But, as she said, they had no means to get back to Minnesota and nothing really to return to anyway. With great sadness still in her voice sixty years later, she re-counted not seeing another adult besides my grandfather for weeks on end and the bitter winters that claimed two of her nine children within their first year of life. Raban does a better than fair job of retelling conversations with the now aged surviving settlers and their descendants, but despite a good ability to paint a landscape with words, misses the essential raw sorrowful patina that overcast that period at that time in that very special harsh place.
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VINE VOICEon April 28, 2008
I'm a great admirer of Jonathan Raban, so don't expect a disinterested review here! But let me have a shot at reflecting on what many other reviewers, of all stripes, find lacking here. Raban is a very idiosyncratic writer, and Bad Land, like his other works, is a splendid literary hippogriff. Nobody is going to find exactly what he or she expected when they picked the book up. They will certainly find accounts of the homesteading movement and of the hopes and tragedies of the families who moved to eastern Montana in the early Twentieth Century. But they will come across many different things as they move from chapter to chapter: history, landscape, weather. But they will only find one thing here with continuity, Jonathan Raban: Raban digging into the history of the soil and the implements used to plough it, Raban bewildered by the landscape as if he is standing in a Dali painting, Raban nearly incapacitated as he tries to ambulate over a few city blocks in the sub-zero weather in imitation of those early homesteaders. And, as always, Raban, the quintessential outsider amidst outsiders, garnering not a few odd looks as he button-holds Montanans in pursuit of his quest.

But, really, it's not Jonathan Raban, per se, that holds this book together and makes it an amazing read. Rather, it's his always literate and splendid writing. Readers familiar with Shakespeare will notice how many times, consciously or subconsciously, Raban interjects parts of the lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream about the poet's "giving to airy nothings a local habitation and a name" and employs them to describe the homesteaders. I almost missed "earth standing hard as iron, water like a stone" as being from Christina Rossetti's poem (posthumously turned into an English hymn) "In The Bleak Mid-Winter." I'm sure I did miss many other subtleties in the reading of the work. But the point here is that you are reading just as much about the plucky -at times, eccentric- quest of a man who views the world through the eyes of great literature as you are about the plight of the homesteaders and their eastern Montana descendents.

If this mix appeals to you, you will love this book. If not, rest assured. You will find many textbook and academic histories on the subject in your local library.
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on April 23, 2013
This author had a knack for telling the story of the beginnings of settlement in Eastern Montana so that you could almost feel that you were there. I would recomments this book and Homesteading: A Montana Family Album as a way to understand the trials and tribulations of the people settling the area at the time.
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on February 1, 2014
I usually don't like these kinds of books and thought it'd be boring but it was actually quite fascinating. The writing can get redundant but it's a great exploration of those hostile places where people choose to stay. I live in Montana and felt like it fit pretty well.
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on November 23, 2012
This book is well written and gives a history of the times, which I always like. But, It didn't keep my interest. I recommend it if you want to learn about the time period and location. A book about a similar time period that I think is very good is The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.
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on July 31, 2009
I drove through Montana in June when my friend and I took a cross country trip so my friend could settle in Seattle. The most unusual landscape we came across was the badlands. I really fell in love with Western Montana and intend to visit again, but Eastern Montana was an alien enviornment. I never realized it existed in the United States. When you are out there, you can get only one radio station, and you rarely, if ever, see another vehicle on the road.

I then saw this book in the bookstore, and picked it up, lost it, and purchased it again from here. I found the book well written, and very insightful travel log into a very unique area of the country. This book is about the mostly unsuccessful attempt to settle this portion of America and illustrates what happens when the best of America ambition meets with an alien enviornment that refuses to bend to American farming or productive development methods.

The author, an English man that has relocated to Seattle, has a keen eye and subtle insight into America and the people that settled Montana 100 years ago. I think he describes the landscape accurately and with great artistry, and humanizes, in a powerful way, a people and the place they created with strong succinct prose. I definitely found myself nodding my head about many of his descriptions, and amazed that he did it.

The author describes that the few hardy folks left out there are like sailors on the sea of the prairie. I am in midst of reading the book, but it paints an incredible picture of the failure of mass settlement in this land, and those few hardy souls who are sticking it out to this day. It truly is an American Romance in every sense of the words.
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on October 18, 2016
Thorough research!
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