Bones of the Earth

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Overview


The Bones of The Earth is a book about landmarks, but of the oldest kind—sticks and stones. For millennia this is all there was: sticks and stones, dirt and trees, animals and people, the sky by day and night. The Lord spoke through burning bushes, through lightning and oaks. Trees and rocks and water were holy. They are commodities today and that is part of our disquiet.

Howard Mansfield explores the loss of cultural memory, asking: What is the past? How do we construct that ...

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The Bones of the Earth

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Overview


The Bones of The Earth is a book about landmarks, but of the oldest kind—sticks and stones. For millennia this is all there was: sticks and stones, dirt and trees, animals and people, the sky by day and night. The Lord spoke through burning bushes, through lightning and oaks. Trees and rocks and water were holy. They are commodities today and that is part of our disquiet.

Howard Mansfield explores the loss of cultural memory, asking: What is the past? How do we construct that past? Is it possible to preserve the past as a vital force for the future? He writes eloquently on the land and time, on how to be a tourist of the near-at-hand, and on the forces that try to topple us. From the author of In the Memory House, which The New York Times Book Review called "wise and beautiful," and The Same Ax, Twice comes The Bones of The Earth, a stunning call for reinventing our view of the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In these measured and moving laments for bygone forms of New England life, historical essayist Mansfield (Skylark; Cosmopolis) traces the loss of local landmarks and customs in an age of increased urbanization. He opens with an account of the ceremonial rite that originated as a marketing ploy of the Boston Post, which offered towns a cane made of African ebony with a gold-plated head for the town's oldest male citizen. He next takes a wry look at the mythology surrounding the "Washington Elm" that once stood in Cambridge, Mass., and goes on to explore, with a local expert, the beautiful stonework of New Hampshire's granite bridges. In perhaps his strongest and most anthropological essay, Mansfield delves into the rules that cemeteries insist on in order to constrain the excesses of mourners' grief, while taking time to reflect on the contemporary ritual of roadside shrines (the flowers and messages of mourning that mark the sites of fatal accidents). The most personal and sentimental essay in the collection celebrates the life of a late friend, a hunter-trapper turned naturalist named John Kulish, whose death represents for Mansfield the passing of a world of intimate knowledge of wildlife. Carefully researched and exuding unassuming integrity, this collection will have special appeal for New Englanders who share the author's mournful approach to modernity. Agent, Christina Ward. (Nov. 20) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Gilbert Taylor
“In the Same Ax, Twice (2000), Mansfield queried the multiple meanings of the popular practice of restoring historical objects, an impetus of concern with the past that carries into this volume. Instead of considering restoration, however, Mansfield plays his thoughts off objects of place as disparate as presentation walking canes, and regulations on impromptu cemetery memorials.... Connoisseurs of seeing the world in an oyster, or even a small state, will savor Mansfield’s style.
Harry Sheff
“In witty essays that recall both Thoreau’s Walden and Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Mansfield ruminates on American history by unpacking our connection to the landscape.”
Keith Demanche
“Reading Bones of the Earth is a little like archaeology. Each essay is a rare find: an exciting bit of history, a revelation about how a forgotten culture operated, an interview with someone unexpected… There are plenty of interesting tidbits and curious facts throughout the book to keep the pages turning. But it is the bigger picture, the epiphany, that makes this book great. Time and again, people fail to recognize the miraculous natural world around them.”

William Craig
“The Bones of the Earth is a book of joyful wonder and discovery, of perceptions expanded by knowledge… Mansfield shows us how much we’re not seeing in what we see around us nowadays. The Bones of the Earth challenges us to cherish our natural and cultural heritage, while delighting us with insights inspired by Mansfield’s research, his gift for vigorous, empathetic observation, and his love of the lasting world.”
Beth Kephart
“A profound curiosity and a rare humanity underlie the elegant work of Howard Mansfield. He is a master sleuth, an invested listener, a credible and compassionate guide to our future and our past. He is a writer I read because there is real wisdom in his words, because there’s nobody else in this generation who writes so meaningfully about what really matters in the American landscape.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593761394
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2007
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,047,397
  • Product dimensions: 4.68 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

“Howard Mansfield has never written an uninteresting or dull sentence. All of his books are emotionally and intellectually nourishing,” said the writer and critic Guy Davenport. “He is something like a cultural psychologist along with being a first-class cultural historian. He is humane, witty, bright-minded, and rigorously intelligent. His deep subject is Time: how we deal with it and how it deals with us.”

Mansfield is the author of six books, including The Bones of the Earth, In the Memory House, and The Same Ax, Twice, which The New York Times said was “filled with insight and eloquence. A memorable, readable, brilliant book on an important subject. It is a book filled with quotable wisdom.” Mansfield is also the editor of the Where the Mountain Stands Alone (UPNE 2006) and two forthcoming children’s books.

For The Bones of the Earth, Mansfield was a tourist of the near-at-hand, exploring the corner of New Hampshire that he has lived in for the last twenty years. Seeking out magnificent elms, he trespassed, and with the cover of a friend and photographer (who is a professional in conflict resolution) he loitered gathering the reactions of passersby. With an old trapper, he enjoyed long winter hikes, one of which ended in a tumble over a five-story icy bobcat ledge. And with an architect schooled in the workings of Las Vegas, he toured a commercial strip, trying to see it with fresh eyes. Other journeys took him back 10,000 years to the bottom of a glacial lake that is now a city, and to the deserted second and third floors of old mercantile buildings in towns and small cities.

Writing about preservation, architecture and American history, Mansfield has contributed to The New York Times, American Heritage, The Washington Post, Historic Preservation, Yankee and other publications. Mansfield has explored issues of preservation in five books, including In the Memory House, of which The Hungry Mind Review said, "Now and then an idea suddenly bursts into flame, as if by spontaneous combustion. One instance is the recent explosion of American books about the idea of place…. But the best of them, the deepest, the widest-ranging, the most provocative and eloquent is Howard Mansfield’s In the Memory House.”
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    This book is a deep well

    The Bones of The Earth is a book about landmarks, but of the oldest kind—sticks and stones. For millennia this is all there was: sticks and stones, dirt and trees, animals and people, the sky by day and night. The Lord spoke through burning bushes, through lightning and oaks. Trees and rocks and water were holy. They are commodities today and that is part of our disquiet.

    In Part One of The Bones of the Earth, “Axis Mundi,” Howard Mansfield writes about how we choose the landmarks of our home place. He explores our allegiance to stone in the monuments of grief, and in unusual old bridges on back roads, which were built without mortar: “One part ancient engineering, one part farmer’s wall.” He visits monuments minor (prized walking canes), unexpected (radio telescopes), and famous (the Washington Elm, whose story is wrong about the facts, but right about the truth).

    Part Two, “Flaneurs,” teaches us to be tourists of the near-at-hand, looking close to home at changes in the land both man-made and natural. And in Part Three, “Rpm,” Mansfield describes the forces that topple our original axis mundi, unsettling us and the land as building booms and asphalt connect people in unexpected ways.

    Howard Mansfield explores the loss of cultural memory, asking: What is the past? How do we construct that past? Is it possible to preserve the past as a vital force for the future? Eloquently written, The Bones of the Earth is a stunning call for reinventing our view of the future.

    “Each of Mansfield’s 11 essays is deep as a well,” said The Concord Monitor. “Mansfield’s genius is to take the familiar … and help us see with fresh eyes by layering new information… He helps us appreciate what we have — and what we may lose if we ain’t careful.”

    . “He writes with wit and passion; he has an eye for the luminous detail, and wears his learning lightly,” said Christianity Today, which picked The Bones of the Earth as one of the Top Ten Books of 2004.

    “Reading Bones of the Earth is a little like archaeology,” said Keith Demanche, in The Wire, (Portsmouth, NH) “Each essay is a rare find: an exciting bit of history, a revelation about how a forgotten culture operated, an interview with someone unexpected… There are plenty of interesting tidbits and curious facts throughout the book to keep the pages turning. But it is the bigger picture, the epiphany, that makes this book great. Time and again, people fail to recognize the miraculous natural world around them.”

    “We need people to dig into our past and show that we once knew these truths but have maybe forgotten a little. Maybe a lot. Bones of the Earth is the chronicle of one man finding the wonders of the commonplace and revealing the crass obfuscation of what’s important by modern commercial excess. Buy this book to start remembering. Consider it a first step to helping the world be a better place.”

    And Beth Kephart, author of A Slant of Sun, said: “A profound curiosity and a rare humanity underlie the elegant work of Howard Mansfield. He is a master sleuth, an invested listener, a credible and compassionate guide to our future and our past. He is a writer I read because there is real wisdom in his words, because there’s nobody else in this generation who writes so meaningfully about what really matters in the American landscape.”

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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