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Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991)

av William Cronon

Andra författare: Jacques Chazaud (Formgivare)

Andra författare: Se under Andra författare.

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,0501419,906 (4.32)2
In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and transformed American culture. The world that emerged is our own.Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize… (mer)
  1. 00
    Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World av Scott Reynolds Nelson (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: This book nicely compliments the discussion of wheat in the Cronon book by putting the market for wheat into a more global perspective. It also explains how the development of the railroad networks in the northern states that evolved to support the wheat market aided in the northern states in their war against the south.… (mer)
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Nature's Metropolis by William Cronon presents a comprehensive analysis of Chicago's development during the 19th century, emphasizing its pivotal role as a Gateway City to the Great West. Cronon explores how Chicago's strategic location at the intersection of transportation routes facilitated the flow of goods from the hinterlands to urban markets.

Grains, lumber, and meat emerge as key commodities driving Chicago's growth. The Midwest's fertile prairies supplied grains that fueled the city's booming grain trade, earning Chicago the title of "breadbasket of the world." Simultaneously, the region's forests were harvested to meet the demand for lumber, supporting the city's construction industry. Meatpacking also played a significant role, with Chicago emerging as a hub for processing and distributing livestock from the Western plains. Innovations in refrigeration and transportation enabled Chicago to dominate the meat industry, supplying meat to consumers across the nation.

Cronon's meticulous research sheds light on the complex interplay between urbanization, environmental exploitation, and economic development. By examining Chicago's rise within the broader context of the Great West, Nature's Metropolis offers valuable insights into the interconnectedness of human societies and the natural world, challenging conventional narratives of urban growth.




Favorite Passages:
"For [Louis] Sullivan, the wonder of Chicago was the wonder of nature transformed: the more nature had been reworked by an inspired human imagination, the more beautiful it became. It served as the vehicle and occasion for expressing human spirit.' - p. 14

We “moderns” believe, even in a postmodern age, that we have the power to control the earth, despite our deep ambivalence about whether we know ow to exercise that power wisely. On the other hand, our nostalgia for the more “natural” world of an earlier time when we were not so powerful, when the human landscape did not seem so omnipresent, encourages us to seek refuge in pastoral or wilderness landscapes that seem as yet unscarred by human action. Convinced of our human omnipotence, we can imagine nature retreating to small islands – “preserves” – in the midst of a landscape which otherwise belongs to us. And therein lies our dilemma: however we wish to “control” nature or “preserve” it – we unconsciously affirm our belief that we ourselves are unnatural. Nature is the place where we are not. - p. 18

“Chicago’s population exploded after 1833 without bothering much about a pastoral stage, a settlement of pioneering subsistence farmers, or even an agricultural community at all. The town’s speculators gambled on and urban future, staking fortunes on land they hoped would soon lie at the heart of a great city. Explaining their vision of Chicago’s ‘destiny’ means reading Turner backward, for their theory of frontier growth apparently began with the city instead of ending with it.” - p. 32

“The changes in Chicago’s markets suddenly made it possible for people to buy and sell grain not as the physical product of human labor on a particular tract of prairie earth but as an abstract claim on the golden stream flowing through the city’s elevators.” - p. 120

“The futures market was a market not in grain but in the price of grain. By entering into futures contracts, one bought and sold not wheat or corn or oats but the prices of those goods as they would exist at a future time. Speculators made and lost money by selling each other legally binding forecasts of how much grain prices would rise or fall.” - p. 125

"The land might have been taken from Indians, its profits might sometimes have been expropriated by absentee landlords, its small farmers might on occasion have suffocated beneath a burden of accumulating debt, but much of what made the land valuable in the first place had little to do with the exploitation of people. The exploitation of nature came first.” - p. 150

“Animals’ lives had been redistributed across regional space, for they were born in one place, fattened in another, and killed in still a third.” - p. 224

“The cattle that grazed on a Wyoming hillside, the corn that grew in an Iowa field, and the white pine that flourished in a Wisconsin forest would never ordinarily have shared the same landscape. All nonetheless came together in Chicago. There they were valued according to the demands and desires of people who for the most part had never even seen the landscapes from which they came. In an urban market, one could by goods from hinterlands halfway round the world without understanding much if anything about how the goods had come to be there. Those who bought plants and animals from so far away had little way of knowing the ecological consequences of such purchases, so the separation of production and consumption had moral as well as material implications.” - p. 226

“Once a product had been processed, packaged, advertised, sold, and shipped within the long chain of wholesale-retail relationships, its identity became more and more a creature of the market. The natural roots from which it had sprung and the human history that had created it faded as it passed from hand to hand. Wherever one bought it, that was where it came from.”- p. 340

"We are consumers all, whether we live in the city or the country. This is to say that the urban and the rural landscapes I have been describing are not two places but one. They created each other, they transformed each other's environments and economies, and they now depend on each other for their very survival. To see them separately is to misunderstand where they came from and where they might go in the future. Worse, to ignore the nearly infinite ways they affect one another is to miss our moral responsibility for the ways they shape each other's landscapes and alter the lives of people and organisms within their bounds. The city-country relations I have described in this book now involve the entire planet, in part because of what happened to Chicago and the Great West during the nineteenth century. We all live in the city. We all live in the country. Both are second nature to us." - p. 384-385

Recommended books: ( )
  Othemts | Apr 16, 2024 |
It is not possible to praise this book too much. It leaves the reader enriched in so many areas. As the title implies, it is a deep history of Chicago during the 19th century but it is also a history of how Chicago interacted with its hinterland, an area that encompassed much of the Western USA. Unlike many other histories of cities, it's emphasis is on the influence had on it's countryside and the influence of it's countryside on Chicago. The book is a must read for anyone interested in developing a deeper understanding of American history in the 19th century, the development of the Western USA, and evolution of the railroad networks, and the history of technology and business.

The book is very detailed without becoming mired down in boring details. Instead, the level of detail ensures that the reader is left with a deep understanding of each topic discussed in the book. The book begins with the early history of Chicago and the vision of early boosters of the city from the 1840s. It then covers the transportation networks that evolved to serve Chicago, particularly the railroads and the water transport on the Great Lakes.

The book then goes into the role that Chicago played in the market for wheat. Innovations that led to Chicago's success with this commodity included the use of Grain Elevators, the Chicago Board of Trade, standardization of wheat qualities, and futures contracts. The book then moves on to discuss the lumber industry and explains the cash flow challenges of this industry as a consequence of the need to transport the logs via rivers at a time when they had enough water in them and were not frozen over. The lumber industry eventually fell as a victim to it's own success when the countryside began to run out of trees. The book then shifts to a discussion of the meat packing industry and the many innovations used in Chicago. These included the use of refrigerator rail cars, kept cold using blocks of ice collected from frozen lakes in the winter, in order to transport beef and not the entire cow.

The book then continues with a mapping of capital and cash flows between Chicago and it's hinterland. This includes a deep dive into the challenges of wholesale and retail merchants in the hinterland. It also explains how their situation evolved with the increase in the rail network. Finally, this section discusses the implications of the catalog sales of Montgomery Wards and Sears.

The final section of the book looks at the Chicago Fair of 1893. In addition to discussing the fair, the section talks about the general attitude of rural society towards Chicago and how Chicago became a magnet that attracted young rural kids to the big city. There is also a discussion of vice in Chicago. Finally, the Epilogue of the book discusses how the hinterland evolved into an area that attracted tourists from Chicago. ( )
  M_Clark | Feb 19, 2024 |
One of my favorite books. ( )
  Kate.Koeze | Apr 15, 2022 |
I've been really into economic histories lately, and this analysis of Chicago's development and its relationship to the Midwest it came to dominate was both staggeringly detailed and elegantly well-written. On the highest level, this is sort of a refutation and extension of Frederick Jackson Turner's "frontier hypothesis" (short version: the old countries of Europe never had the Wild West's unique conflict between the "individual freedom" of society's rejects on the frontier and the "law and order" back in the Eastern cities, which helped explain why America was so different than its transatlantic ancestors). Cronon's copiously researched opinion is that city and country, far from being opposed, critically depend on each other. For example, he explores how the holy trinity of the grain elevator, grade standardization (a pile of wheat became "no. 1 spring wheat"), and futures trading at the Board of Trade revolutionized how farmers sold their goods, to the extent that Chicago is a world center of commodities trading to this day and the Midwest is some of the most productive farmland on the planet. Without Chicago (and to a lesser extent similar cities like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and Kansas City; the sections where he traces the rail and financial linkages between them are awesome), the settlers at the frontier never would have managed a living for want of markets; without the farmers producing goods for consumption and distribution, Chicago would have no reason for ever existing. Reading this book so soon after The Box brought home a lot of lessons on how miraculous our current standard of living is: in some ways the Industrial Revolution has never ended, and the great wave of commerce that stretches back to the early 1800s has only begun for most of the world. The book touches mainly grain, lumber, and meat out of the hundreds of goods that Chicago shipped, stored, refined, or revolutionized, but it does a fantastic job of showing not only why Chicago is one of the great cities of the world, but how America has evolved and innovated over time. Basically the only thing I didn't like about the book was that it could have been longer and included more insight from urban development economics. Cronon spends a great deal of time using Von Thünen's concentric circle model as a foil to show how cities don't just accrete in a vacuum but develop symbiotically with the hinterland they create, but it feels like he strawman's this very simple and very old model unnecessarily. If he had used some more modern work in urban development from someone like Ed Glaeser or Paul Krugman (who later wrote an excellent paper on this very book) I think readers would have benefited, but otherwise it was genius. ( )
1 rösta aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
If I was more into the Midwest I would have given this title another star. Even so, the perspective of the mid to late 19th century conversion of the Midwest from natural landscape to a completely extracted farm was enlightening. Excruciating, but enlightening. The prairies were plowed under on farms made possible by converting the great northern forests to lumber. Chicago markets and finance made it all possible.

The voraciousness of markets and the shortsighted lure of profits today spell doom and destruction for natural and wild landscapes. The 19th century mindset held no conception that the natural world was a limited resource. And one that is necessary to the maintenance of life.

How does the culture get changed to become aware and develop some reverence for the natural world? Books like this help. ( )
  Mark-Bailey | Aug 7, 2020 |
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» Lägg till fler författare (4 möjliga)

Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Cronon, WilliamFörfattareprimär författarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Chazaud, JacquesFormgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Inger, CharlesLithographmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Palmatary, I.T.Illustratörmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and transformed American culture. The world that emerged is our own.Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize

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