American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn


“Ted Steinberg proves once again that he is a master storyteller as well as our foremost environmental historian.”—Mike Davis
The rise of the perfect lawn represents one of the most profound transformations in the history of the American landscape. American Green, Ted Steinberg's witty exposé of this bizarre phenomenon, traces the history of the lawn from its explosion in the postwar suburban community of Levittown to the present love affair ...
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“Ted Steinberg proves once again that he is a master storyteller as well as our foremost environmental historian.”—Mike Davis
The rise of the perfect lawn represents one of the most profound transformations in the history of the American landscape. American Green, Ted Steinberg's witty exposé of this bizarre phenomenon, traces the history of the lawn from its explosion in the postwar suburban community of Levittown to the present love affair with turf colorants, leaf blowers, and riding mowers.
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Editorial Reviews

Robert Sullivan
“The lawn is the centerpiece of the American Dream, and why wouldn’t we dream about our obsession? In American Green, Ted Steinberg explores the psychological, moral, economic, and, yes, even political implications of growing and mowing a lawn, a not at all academic act that turns out to be a blast. You may never picnic the same way again, but if you do, you will want to talk about it with your city councilman, if not your doctor.”
Publishers Weekly
Apartment-dwelling urbanites may be surprised to learn how significant lawn care is to the American economy, generating more than $10 billion in annual sales of pesticides, fertilizers and other products. Steinberg, an environmental historian, is aiming for the grassy equivalent of Fast Food Nation, with one key difference-while people know junk food isn't good for them, they may not be aware that most lawn care products are not only unnecessary but may actually harm soil and turf. He particularly damns the lawnmower industry, revealing how manufacturers "worked tirelessly to mislead the American public" for years in order to avoid the expense of installing safety features that could prevent severed fingers. Steinberg's subjects range from the postwar boom in suburban lawns to contemporary debates over noisy leaf blowers, and he mixes cultural history with personal lawn-related experiences in Long Island and Ohio, where some people maintain putting greens in their backyards. (Not surprisingly, Steinberg points out, golf courses are "the most intensively managed lawns in America.") There's plenty of muckraking outrage, but it's delivered in a friendly, engaging voice that might just win over skeptics. 40 illus. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Environmental historian Steinberg (Case Western Reserve Univ.) has written a fascinating account of lawns and our obsession with creating these smooth, thick carpets of greenery. Tracing their evolution from their British roots to today, he explores why people desire perfect lawns, the influence of lawn care companies, and how lawn maintenance costs us time, money, and effort while threatening environmental destruction. Pesticides contaminate the environment and endanger people and wildlife; power lawnmowers and riding mowers pollute and injure thousands every year. Leaf blowers annoy but are essential for those who work long hours caring for lawns. Steinberg also shares the difficulties faced by those who manage golf courses and details the high price of watering lawns, especially in times of drought or in dry areas of the country. He discusses our war on weeds and how those who enjoy native plant communities instead of lawns have to fight to keep them. Extensive endnotes conclude this highly readable and engaging book, which is recommended for public, academic, and horticultural libraries.-Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL Health & Medicine Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329308
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/5/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 382,042
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ted Steinberg is professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of four books, including Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America.
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Table of Contents

Prologue     xi
The Origins
Live Free and Mow     3
The Levitt Legacy     17
"Mother Nature's Little Helper"     39
The Color of Money     63
The Augusta Syndrome     83
The Dark Side
"First-Aid for the Earth"     107
Blades of Thunder     133
Mow, Blow, and Go     157
The Future
The Suburban Jungle     179
The Case for Brown     201
Epilogue     227
Notes     231
Acknowledgments     279
Illustration Credits     281
Index     283
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2009

    Relax about your lawn

    I loved this book. Every homeowner with a lawn should read it. It will save them time and money and will help the environment. It provides reasons why we should reduce the amount of money we spend on our lawns, reduce the chemicals we introduce into the environment, reduce the amount of time we spend on our lawns, and increase the enjoyment we get from them. Well written and I learned a lot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2006

    In Praise of Nice Lawns:

    Steinberg claims that lawns became popular amid all the conformity of the 1950's. Actually lawns became popular long before that, with the advent of modern lawn mowers. He says that lawns represent the utmost in conformity, but for the past twenty-five years in horticulture and gardening circles, anti-lawn sentiment has been rampant. To be anti-lawn now is hardly radical. Steinberg knocks lawns as being water hogs and wasters of fertilizers. He ignores the fact that lawns cool our hot urban air in the heat of summer, absorb carbon dioxide, produce prodigious amounts of oxygen, and trap and take out of circulation vast quantities of allergenic pollen and harmful airborne particulates. There are lawn grasses available now that need little mowing, irrigation or feeding. Female clones of buffalo grass for example are beautiful, very easy to maintain, and being female, are pollen-free. Attractive lawns are a positive addition to any neighborhood, and no other groundcover is half as safe or nearly as much fun for kids to play on. Thomas Leo Ogren author of Allergy-free Gardening, of, Safe Sex in the Garden (both from Ten Speed Press), and of, What the Experts May NOT Tell You About: Growing the Perfect Lawn, from Time Warner Books.

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