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My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm Hardcover – April 27, 2010
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“The night I turned forty Manny Howard, a younger guy from the neighborhood, led me to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. We even stole the flag. It was about five in the morning; we weren't sober. It is a great pleasure to now be able to follow him on this slightly safer—well, safer for me—adventure. What a unique wonder this book is! Like a collaboration between Joseph Mitchell, Moe Howard, and Xavier de Maistre (A Journey Around My Room). Informative, grungy, rollicking, hilarious, horrifying, obsessive; most of all, a really great story, lived and written by a writer whose heart is as capacious and teeming as all of Brooklyn.”
—Francisco Goldman, author of The Art of Political Murder
“With My Empire of Dirt, Manny Howard has created a new job category, gonzo agriculturalist. The squeamish and the vegan-hearted shall enter at their own risk, for this is no gentle Farmer’s Almanac. It’s more like war reportage—on one side, angry rabbits, crazed chickens, and a patch of backyard clay so dry it makes concrete seem loamy; on the other, a Brooklyn-raised City Boy, who won’t take crop failure for an answer. Howard takes living off the land to an urban extreme that will make people think even harder about where their food comes from. Ultimately, though, as tornadoes come and fig trees nearly go, he discovers a marriage that needs tending to, proving that when it comes to love, at least, you shall definitely reap what you sow.”
—Robert Sullivan, author of Rats and Cross Country
“Manny Howard—husband, father, novice farmer—is not the sort of person who does things halfway, and thank goodness for that. Here is the dark, charming, hilarious—and thoroughly original—account of his simple, insane plan to live off the land . . . in Brooklyn. (Crops will be destroyed, tempers will be lost, and a marriage may, or may not, survive.) All of this personal drama is improbably enriched by virtuoso passages on everything from the science of tornadoes to the art of breeding rabbits. What a book!”
—Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning
“Manny Howard's wonderful book is much more than a breezy romp across the line that divides urban from rural life. Yes, it crackles with intelligence and good humor, sparkles with hilarious anecdotes, and is studded with entertaining factoids about the agrarian life that Howard decided, so improbably, to adopt (you'll never hear the phrase ‘pecking order’ in quite the same way again). But at its core this book belongs to a great American tradition that goes back to Thoreau: a lone man with big ideas decides to confront Nature on his own. That the nature in question happens to be in Brooklyn gives this book—which like its author is characterized by an unmistakably New York mix of huge ambition and wry self-deprecation—its unique and ultimately quite touching charm.”
—Daniel Mendelsohn, author of The Lost
About the Author
Manny Howard is a veteran of the magazine world, having written and/or edited for New York, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Esquire, Harper's, Rolling Stone, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Us Weekly, National Geographic, and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two children, and a dwindling number of farm animals.
Top customer reviews
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In the first few pages I found out how he avoided work, got divorced and tried to get his (then) girlfriend to commit an abortion. I expected from his ramblings that he was writing for word count, rather than quality. So, I omitted the narcissistic portions and other areas that were otherwise left as fluff.
That left a bit about his back yard having about 7 feet of clay on top, and how his yard did not even grow grass before his ill-fated effort. It can take years to get garden soil to perform. Had he done any serious, meaningful research, he would have learned about raised-bed gardening. That would have spared him a weekend of digging a dry well, etc. and had a productive garden the first time around.
It might have been nice if he included anything meaningful. Instead, it's the rambling of a self-loathing Gen-Xer.
I stopped reading because I realized this was the worst example of writing I've encountered. Fortunately he had connections in publishing (including his wife) so he could get a contract. Unfortunately for us, they enabled.
Minus one star for rambling. Minus one star for narcissism. Minus two stars for not providing meaningful information on the subject. I would have removed another star, but Amazon won't let me.
If you're looking for an entertaining story of someone starting out as an actual gardener, read From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden
Most recent customer reviews
Do not buy, borrow or read this book. Many others outlined the specific issues.Read more
As a previous reviewer mentioned, it is padded with marginally relevant material on...Read more