Down to Earth

Nature's Role in American History

by Ted Steinberg

In this ambitious and provocative text, environmental historian Ted Steinberg offers a sweeping history of our nation--a history that, for the first time, places the environment at the very center of our story. Written with exceptional clarity, Down to Earth re-envisions the story of America "from the ground up." It reveals how focusing on plants, animals, climate, and other ecological factors can radically change the way that we think about the past. Examining such familiar topics as colonization, the industrial revolution, slavery, the Civil War, and the emergence of modern-day consumer culture, Steinberg recounts how the natural world influenced the course of human history. From the colonists' attempts to impose order on the land to modern efforts to sell the wilderness as a consumer good, the author reminds readers that many critical episodes in our history were, in fact, environmental events. He highlights the ways in which we have attempted to reshape and control nature, from Thomas Jefferson's surveying plan, which divided the national landscape into a grid, to the transformation of animals, crops, and even water into commodities. The text is ideal for courses in environmental history, environmental studies, urban studies, economic history, and American history.Passionately argued and thought-provoking, Down to Earth retells our nation's history with nature in the foreground--a perspective that will challenge our view of everything from Jamestown to Disney World.

  • Oxford University Press; May 2002
  • ISBN: 9780198032106
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: Down to Earth
  • Author: Ted Steinberg
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Steinberg, a professor of history and law at Case Western Reserve University, deftly summarizes much of the last 30 years of scholarship in environmental history and arranges the resulting stories into three periods...Steinberg shows how Americans used their new technologies to bring all the parts of nature, from land to buffalo bones, to the market and how the market shaped their thinking about nature." -- Thomas R. Dunlap, Science
"Steinberg produces one of the best environmental histories ever written, a naturalist's version of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Like Richard White and William Cronon, who worked this ground before him, he insists that our interaction with the land is a complex give-and-take that still leaves room for surprises."--Bruce Barcott, Outside Magazine
"Ted Steinberg's book is a delight. [H]e shows how nature and natural events were influential in ways too often overlooked: for example, the role of climate in shaping the events and outcomes of the Civil War.... A coherent and well written overview of an extremely complex subject."-- Stephanie Pincetl, Department of Geography, University of Southern California, The American Historical Review
"With this book, Ted Steinberg boldly places the environment at the center of an important new synthesis of American history.... Down to Earth elegantly synthesizes the most recent work in the field and presents the author's own interpretations."--Linda Nash, Department of History, University of Washington, The Journal of American History
"Steinberg relentlessly relates the exploitation of America's staggering natural resources and 'the environmental decline and fall of the American republic', a proposition that is provocative, to say the least. It has grand sweep, from the arrival of the first European settlers on the eastern shores, through the expansion to the west, conquest of the native peoples, civil war, and the emergence of the United States.... A marvelous weave, connecting societies and cities, agriculture and industry, slavery and revolt, work and leisure to the environment, itself both imposing on and being affected by them. All of this is well illustrated by frequently shocking photographs."--Roy Herbert, New Scientist
"A challenging new look at American history describing how the environment has played a key role in every aspect of American development.... Richly researched and filled with fascinating details, this book takes an important new look at history and may cause readers to pause and consider the consequences of their lifestyle."--Library Journal
"Steinberg is a refreshing historian because he writes from an environmental perspective. And he's a refreshing environmentalist because he's not hysterical."--Toronto Globe and Mail
"Steinberg chronicles the ecological effects of the clear-cutting of forests, the great push west, the building dams and railroads, and the rise of the cattle and car industries, heady endeavors that have diminished biodiversity and created vast quantities of hazardous waste and garbage. A socially conscious sibling to Tim Flannery's Eternal Frontier, Steinberg's scintillating environmental panorama reveals the ripple effect of every choice we make, from creating nuclear weapons to eating fast food, driving SUVs, and maintaining perfect lawns."--Booklist
"Steinberg's accessible survey will prove useful as a reference for green-inclined readers in and out of school."--Kirkus Reviews

About The Author

Ted Steinberg is Professor of History and Law at Case Western Reserve University. One of the most brilliant, articulate, and provocative of the rising generation of environmental historians, he is the author of Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America, Slide Mountain, or the Folly of Owning Nature, and Nature Incorporated. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.