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Privately published, 2011; pbk, 262pp; ISBN 978-1-45659-018-5; Subbuteo code M21086, £12.99 This book, subtitled 'a human and natural history of North America's Great Plains', is a fascinating account of a much-abused wilderness. It is not a detailed natural history of the Prairies (there are other publications which tackle this subject), but is described by the author as 'a history of the interaction between European culture and the North American grasslands'. The book is well researched, with nearly 100 references, and the text is divided into 26 sections plus a prologue and an epilogue that cover the various aspects of the subject matter. I should have liked a simple map showing the area that the book covers together with its topographical features, as that would have saved me the task of frequent referrals to an atlas. It is the destructive influence of humans that forms the main theme of the book, with accounts of the early explorers in the Great Plains, the political drive to 'settle the wilderness' by the establishment of unsustainable agriculture, and the problems of grasshoppers, droughts and consequential dust bowls. These catastrophes, together with the mass slaughter of the buffalo and the extinction of the Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis, occurring about the same time as the demise of the Carolina Parakeet Conuropsis carolinensis and the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, make harrowing reading. More encouragingly, there is hope for the future and the author discusses the plans to improve the conservation of the remaining grassland and to extend the existing reserves. I have difficulty with the author's views on Judeo-Christian beliefs. He suggests, for instance, that they gave humans full permission to exploit nature without hindrance; I would have thought that it was rather the basic common human failings of ignorance, greed, politics and brutality that led (and to some extent still lead) to this approach to nature. (There is an error - it was not the 'Church' but Bishop Ussher's discredited publication of 1658 that decreed that Creation occurred in 4004 bc.) The real beauty in the book is in the style of the writing. There are no illustrations but this is more than made up for by the descriptive prose, which captures the atmosphere of the landscape so well. One example that I like demonstrates this: 'For many pioneer settlers the incessant wind, the constancy of landscape, its awful perfection of symmetry, its hatred of the vertical and its terrifying emptiness all imparted strange feelings of helplessness.' I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those who love wild places and have an interest in their history, and also to lovers of English prose. Chris Wheeler Buy this book from the British Birds bookshop which is run by Subbuteo Natural History Books This means that 5% of all sales generated by British Birds subscribers, whether it is books reviewed in the jou
ttp://www.britishbirds.co.uk/book-reviews/prairie-dreams-by-andrew-stoddart/attachment/m21086" rel="attachment wp-att-3189">Privately published, 2011; pbk, 262pp; ISBN 978-1-45659-018-5; Subbuteo code M21086, £12.99 This book, subtitled 'a human and natural history of North America's Great Plains', is a fascinating account of a much-abused wilderness. It is not a detailed natural history of the Prairies (there are other publications which tackle this subject), but is described by the author as 'a history of the interaction between European culture and the North American grasslands'. The book is well researched, with nearly 100 references, and the text is divided into 26 sections plus a prologue and an epilogue that cover the various aspects of the subject matter. I should have liked a simple map showing the area that the book covers together with its topographical features, as that would have saved me the task of frequent referrals to an atlas. It is the destructive influence of humans that forms the main theme of the book, with accounts of the early explorers in the Great Plains, the political drive to 'settle the wilderness' by the establishment of unsustainable agriculture, and the problems of grasshoppers, droughts and consequential dust bowls. These catastrophes, together with the mass slaughter of the buffalo and the extinction of the Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis, occurring about the same time as the demise of the Carolina Parakeet Conuropsis carolinensis and the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, make harrowing reading. More encouragingly, there is hope for the future and the author discusses the plans to improve the conservation of the remaining grassland and to extend the existing reserves. I have difficulty with the author's views on Judeo-Christian beliefs. He suggests, for instance, that they gave humans full permission to exploit nature without hindrance; I would have thought that it was rather the basic common human failings of ignorance, greed, politics and brutality that led (and to some extent still lead) to this approach to nature. (There is an error - it was not the 'Church' but Bishop Ussher's discredited publication of 1658 that decreed that Creation occurred in 4004 bc.) The real beauty in the book is in the style of the writing. There are no illustrations but this is more than made up for by the descriptive prose, which captures the atmosphere of the landscape so well. One example that I like demonstrates this: 'For many pioneer settlers the incessant wind, the constancy of landscape, its awful perfection of symmetry, its hatred of the vertical and its terrifying emptiness all imparted strange feelings of helplessness.' I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those who love wild places and have an interest in their history, and also to lovers of English prose. Chris Wheeler Buy this book from the British Birds bookshop which is run by Subbuteo Natural History Books This means that 5% of all sales generated by British Birds subscribers, whether it is books reviewed in the journal, featured on its book page or listed on the Subbuteo website, will be paid to British Birds - and will directly support the production of the journal. To browse the British Birds bookshop, please click here
Volume: 
Issue 9

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