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Strange that there isn t a genre of literature devoted to place Sure, there are travel books, but these tend to suggest dalliances, adventures that are measured in days, passports, tourism But I find myself increasingly drawn to books and authors that explore locations as biographers would explore lives delving into personalities, histories, parentage, lovers, abusers, and the details that so many casual passers by might miss Jonathan Raban s exploration of the ruined, Eastern stretches of Strange that there isn t a genre of literature devoted to place Sure, there are travel books, but these tend to suggest dalliances, adventures that are measured in days, passports, tourism But I find myself increasingly drawn to books and authors that explore locations as biographers would explore lives delving into personalities, histories, parentage, lovers, abusers, and the details that so many casual passers by might miss Jonathan Raban s exploration of the ruined, Eastern stretches of Montana truly vivify that sparse and lonely place He describes the poetic ghostliness of the abandoned ranches, towns, and schoolhouses that dot the landscape, and the forces that both drew settlers in and forced them out of their American Dream The way towns were created from dust and clapboard, placed along regular intervals on the railway, and then filled with dreamers who believed the glossy brochures they were sent about soil quality and abundance in the West He talks about the fickle nature of the rain, in a place where even slight variations can tip the balance between subsistence and ruin He takes us to the farm where his father lived as a child, still filled with the objects and memories his father was so keen to leave behind And he shows us the people who still cling, with great tenacity, to these vast and delicate soiled plains.I have been to Eastern Montana a few times, but mostly explored cities and towns like Billings and Livingston I did drive through the empty, quiet stretches near Kalispell and the Native American reservation there that hint of the desolation about which Raban speaks But reading his book makes me want to go back again, to lookclosely, and to photograph the little outposts that remain before they disappear completely Although Raban wrote this 20 years ago though Goodreads claims 30 , it resonates aptly in these days or political grudges and tribalism The author is a Brit, writing as a somewhat arch, occasionally patronizing, but often eloquent outsider, about the trials, challenges, and defeats of homesteading eastern Montana in the early 1900s, taking a long view of the aftermath of those earlier events Wannabee homesteaders fell for the line of government, scientific, and railroad colluders, promoting Although Raban wrote this 20 years ago though Goodreads claims 30 , it resonates aptly in these days or political grudges and tribalism The author is a Brit, writing as a somewhat arch, occasionally patronizing, but often eloquent outsider, about the trials, challenges, and defeats of homesteading eastern Montana in the early 1900s, taking a long view of the aftermath of those earlier events Wannabee homesteaders fell for the line of government, scientific, and railroad colluders, promoting the surefire scheme of dry farming Replace scientists with evangelical Christian preachers, hoodwinking Swedish immigrants fifty years earlier, and you ve got the life situation of my great great grandparents, who got off the train in Salina in 1869, expecting central Kansas to be a land of milk and honey just like V rmland For many who made the trek, it did not end well Raban reconstructs the 1910s to 1930s struggles of several families, but also tracks their descendents down through the 1990s Later generations have not forgotten the misguided, scientific schemes, promoted or dictated by federal outsiders and paternalistic politicians, which in the end seemed chiefly to line the pockets of wealthy easterners In such light, Global Warming can sound like just the latest such scientific scheme to benefit outsiders Although Raban s penchant for arrresting turns of phrase may occasionally take his generalizations a little too far, his portraits of individual players in this epic, big sky drama are vivid, personal, and frequently sympathetic His frequent digressions into such areas as the science of dry farming, authors representations of that world out west, textbooks and turn of the century education, political schemes may occasionally sprawl like the landscape The chapter on capturing the look of the land in the mind s eye and the camera lens worked particularly well for me though the failure to include illustrations seemed a missed opportunity Raban s carefully crafted prose gets the reader only so far I started the book, put it down, then took it up again a week or two later and found that it was growing on me I also found myself talking about it to others not something that happens with a lot of my idle reading When I first moved to South Dakota, a bookseller friend recommended this book as an avenue to understanding the people and the place that has now been my home for over a decade Raban writes as an outsider seeing the Great Plains through personal discovery of the land, artifacts, historical records, and conversations So he walks through one of the prairie skeletons that dot the western prairies and describes what he sees the things left by the unfortunate homeowners back in the Thirties who de When I first moved to South Dakota, a bookseller friend recommended this book as an avenue to understanding the people and the place that has now been my home for over a decade Raban writes as an outsider seeing the Great Plains through personal discovery of the land, artifacts, historical records, and conversations So he walks through one of the prairie skeletons that dot the western prairies and describes what he sees the things left by the unfortunate homeowners back in the Thirties who despaired of making a living from the parched earth and left hurriedly He describes the lives of early settlers and the role that railroads, ideas like dry earth farming and romantic notions of the West played in their decision to migrate He combs local historical records to learnabout his subjects.The book is haunting and as beautifully written as anything Raban has done, that is to say, well written indeed It especially helped me to understand the conservatism of those who stayed Early in the twentieth century homesteaders came to the dry Eastern plains of Montana from all over including Europe, Scandinavia, the East Coast of the United States They were drawn by government offers of free land and by artfully deceptive pamphlets with instruction on the new, scientific method of dry farming After a few hopeful seasons the rain stopped, the land dried up and these determined newcomers were ruined Some hung on to the land, others fled west, heartbroken and eager for any Early in the twentieth century homesteaders came to the dry Eastern plains of Montana from all over including Europe, Scandinavia, the East Coast of the United States They were drawn by government offers of free land and by artfully deceptive pamphlets with instruction on the new, scientific method of dry farming After a few hopeful seasons the rain stopped, the land dried up and these determined newcomers were ruined Some hung on to the land, others fled west, heartbroken and eager for any kind of work Jonathan Raban weaves the story of these pioneers with the memories of their descendents He travels in their footsteps and describes the scenes they must have observed His prose is witty He has a native curiosity about long forgotten events ad brings them to life ( Free Kindle ) ♁ Bad Land ♨ A New York Times Editors Choice for Book of the Year Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award Winner of the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award No one has evoked with greater power the marriage of land and sky that gives this country both its beauty and its terror Washington Post Book WorldInmaps still identified eastern Montana as the Great American Desert But in that year Congress, lobbied heavily by railroad companies, offeredacre tracts of land to anyone bold or foolish enough to stake a claim to them Drawn by shamelessly inventive brochures, countless homesteaders many of them immigrants went west to make their fortunes Most failed In Bad Land, Jonathan Raban travels through the unforgiving country that was the scene of their dreams and undoing, and makes their story come miraculously alive In towns named Terry, Calypso, and Ismay which changed its name to Joe, Montana, in an effort to attract football fans , and in the landscape in between, Raban unearths a vanished episode of American history, with its own ruins, its own heroes and heroines, its own hopeful myths and bitter memories Startlingly observed, beautifully written, this book is a contemporary classic of the American WestExceptional A beautifully told historical meditation Time Championship prose In fifty years don t be surprised if Bad Land is a landmark Los Angeles Times If you ever wanted to know why the people of the Northwest and we re not talking the cityfolk in Seattle think and feel they way they do, then this is the book you need to read to understand the history behind the politics and attitudes of today This is a fascinating look at the history of a particular period and area of our country and Bad Land pays big dividends for those who decide they want to know some things they otherwise might not One of my favorite non fiction books. 3.5 stars Some beautiful, thoughtful writing Some of it was also slow as molasses, and I thought some connections the author made seemed tenuous, if elegant, but I learned a lot and am glad I read it In the early 20th century, railroad companies and the US government teamed up to settle the area of eastern Montana then known on maps as the Great American Desert with homesteaders They touted the benefits of a new agricultural trend called dry farming That the latter was a mug s game was no 3.5 stars Some beautiful, thoughtful writing Some of it was also slow as molasses, and I thought some connections the author made seemed tenuous, if elegant, but I learned a lot and am glad I read it In the early 20th century, railroad companies and the US government teamed up to settle the area of eastern Montana then known on maps as the Great American Desert with homesteaders They touted the benefits of a new agricultural trend called dry farming That the latter was a mug s game was not immediately apparent, since the railways began importing hopeful homesteaders during a brief series of years with higher than usual rainfall Over time, however, the region dried out again, and emptied itself of most of the homesteaders Evocative descriptions of the landscape, interesting history This book has been on my radar since it was published in 1998, so yes, that s a very long time.Mr Raban goes to Montana and explores the promises that brought a generation of homesteaders to the state in the early 1900s, how their dreams worked out badly, for as we know now, these poor souls were looking at the dust bowl and Great Depression in just a generation It was a little weird for me to figure out he was British That was never mentioned directly, and instead I was left to figure it o This book has been on my radar since it was published in 1998, so yes, that s a very long time.Mr Raban goes to Montana and explores the promises that brought a generation of homesteaders to the state in the early 1900s, how their dreams worked out badly, for as we know now, these poor souls were looking at the dust bowl and Great Depression in just a generation It was a little weird for me to figure out he was British That was never mentioned directly, and instead I was left to figure it out when he frequently compared the scenery to England instead of, say, Iowa It was odd not only to not have that addressed specifically, but to have a Brit writing about something so incredibly American.But that said, it was a terrific book He really captured the hope and optimism, while showing the marketing that was used to obscure the inevitable difficulties It kept bringing me back to memories of The Little House books, of how hard and rewarding farming can be, and how the hope for the future can conquer any qualms Mr Raban s love of the region is palpable and his respect the for people is admirable His writing is fluid and his descriptions are evocative I do wish there was a photo section, not only of the geography, but of the people who lived there, and of the old photos he talks about finding, but also from the famous photographers who were in the area and documented the life.Overall I did like the book a lot, while it left me wantingthe images particularly it mostly left me wanting to visit the region I d love to see the buttes and the badlands he s talking about Anyone who s interested in the American West needs to read this book for a better understanding of our heartland Fascinating and well written The book follows closely a group of families that settled in the same area near Ismay, MT Those that managed to stay and those that picked up and headed west It is now clear that most of the area is much too dry to farm and is livestock land He talks to their kids and grandkids, reads their writings and uses a book of interviews of people from the area that was put together in 1972.My sister gave this book to me She picked this book up because our mom was born i Fascinating and well written The book follows closely a group of families that settled in the same area near Ismay, MT Those that managed to stay and those that picked up and headed west It is now clear that most of the area is much too dry to farm and is livestock land He talks to their kids and grandkids, reads their writings and uses a book of interviews of people from the area that was put together in 1972.My sister gave this book to me She picked this book up because our mom was born in 1920 in Glasgow, MT Different railroad the book follows the Milwaukie Road, Glasgow is on the Great Northern , same scene Our grandfather had arrived before the homestead act and worked for the railroad He worked for the land office and proved up on a claim Our grandmother came west from New York state to teach at the high school Her mom had let her come because her older brother was already established in Glasgow as an attorney Mom said that after a drought, a flood and a year when everyone grew a bumper crop of feed corn and the bottom dropped out of the market, grandpa pulled up stakes and headed east to St Paul in about 1925 Mom also said that her oldest sister was getting ready to go to high school and grandpa had said that he wanted something better for his daughters than to be farm or ranch wives He sold his land to a family that raised sheep If you like this book I would also recommend Miles from Nowhere and Nothing To Do But Stay in my list man, I put this book to rest at pg 140 really disappointed, but I just wasn t interested in it other than being about Montana and some random people and families connected to the region, I wasn t sure what the purpose was in writing it other than Raban putting together a rag tag of anecdotes and narratives about this new American obsession of his The writing itself is fantastic, but I wasn t captivated by any narrative strand he threw in Kind of seemed to hit the same note Montana s a toug man, I put this book to rest at pg 140 really disappointed, but I just wasn t interested in it other than being about Montana and some random people and families connected to the region, I wasn t sure what the purpose was in writing it other than Raban putting together a rag tag of anecdotes and narratives about this new American obsession of his The writing itself is fantastic, but I wasn t captivated by any narrative strand he threw in Kind of seemed to hit the same note Montana s a tough place the people who got weaseled into settling there had it rough and rain is like gold What else I kept waiting for Raban to insert himself a bitinto the narrative Page 10 made me think he would, since he likened himself an immigrant from Britain with the earlier settlers of the West But 140 pages in he didn t I flipped pages and pages ahead and still didn t see it so I threw my hands up And I really, really loved Old Glory, which is why I m so disappointed that this book didn t do it for me