Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $30.58
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 67%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (11) from $30.58   
  • New (6) from $30.58   
  • Used (5) from $34.96   


This book demonstrates that American agricultural development was far more dynamic than generally portrayed. In the two centuries before World War II, a stream of biological innovations revolutionized the crop and livestock sectors, increasing both land and labor productivity. Biological innovations were essential for the movement of agriculture onto new lands with more extreme climates, for maintaining production in the face of evolving threats from pests, and for the creation of the modern livestock sector. These innovations established the foundation for the subsequent Green and Genetic Revolutions. The book challenges the misconceptions that, before the advent of hybrid corn, American farmers single-mindedly invested in laborsaving mechanical technologies and that biological technologies were static.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is an important book! It traces the stream of biological innovation that over a period of two centuries has transformed the technical landscape of American agriculture. It demonstrates that biological innovations were essential for the movement of agriculture to new lands with more extreme climates, for maintaining and enhancing productivity in the face of evolving threats from pests, soil degradation and depletion, for creating modern livestock breeds, for enhancing feed efficiency, and for protecting animal and human health. It will be the standard against which the next generation of research in the history of agricultural technology will be evaluated."
-Vernon W. Ruttan, Regents Professor Emeritus, Department of Applied Economics and Department of Economics, University of Minnesota

"In Creating Abundance Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode examine an important, but often neglected, aspect of American economic growth over the course of several centuries. Based on extensive research in a large variety of primary and secondary sources, including numerous state and national agricultural reports and related private documents, they describe in great detail the important biological developments influencing crop and livestock productivity. This is an original and superb work of scholarship. This book should be of interest to all economic historians, historians, and agricultural economists."
-Stanley L. Engerman, John H. Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of History, University of Rochester

"In an era focusing on sustainability and climate change, Creating Abundance should be required reading for environmentalists, economists, and policy makers, as well as for economic, environmental and technological historians (and their students). This is so because even as virtuous cycles of biological innovation have overcome tough constraints, in agriculture biological contingencies and unanticipated consequences persist. The culmination of nearly two decades of extensive, patient, and inclusive research, Creating Abundance combines theoretical sophistication with a supple writing style to illuminate both a host of planning/policy advances and errors and the centrality of engaged practitioners' efforts in building flexible and responsive relationships with the natural world. A profound and compelling corrective to generations of scholarship on American agricultural development."
-Philip Scranton, Board of Governors Professor, History of Industry and Technology, Rutgers-Camden; Editor-in-Chief, Enterprise and Society

"Olmstead and Rhode’s brilliant new book, Creating Abundance, is the most significant work on the economic history of American agriculture to appear in a generation. In emphasizing the early role and persistent importance of biological innovation in American agricultural development, the authors fundamentally recast the story of our farm sector. Rigorous in theoretical terms, well argued, and deeply researched, Creating Abundance, upon publication, becomes not merely the standard, but the indispensable work in the field.
-Peter A. Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Professor of History, UNC-Chapel Hill

"Creating Abundance is a panoramic survey of American agricultural development, dramatically altering the standard narrative focused exclusively on mechanization. In the process, Olmstead and Rhode relocate farming from the periphery squarely into the mainstream of American economic history. Anyone looking for the lessons of the American experience for developing economies should read this book.
-Gavin Wright, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History, Stanford University

"This brilliant book challenges one of the dominant interpretations of history. The standard story of the industrial revolution holds that rapid economic growth came from replacing people and animals with machinery. Olmstead and Rhode show that the standard story is only half right. Agricultural yields soared in the age of industrialization because farmers and scientists updated plants and animals just as much as machinery. This book provides a fresh and exciting interpretation of economic, technological, and agricultural history that should inspire others to look for other arenas in which biological innovation has played a more important role than we have suspected."
-Edmund Russell, Department of Science, Technology, and Society and Department of History, University of Virginia

"Creating Abundance presents an in-depth evaluation of the biological innovation in US agriculture dating back to the Colonial period. Highly recommended." -Choice

"...this book will remain essential reading in the field for decades to come." -Mark Finlay, History: Reviews of New Books

"I strongly recommend this volume to readers with any interest in U.S. economic history or the history of agriculture." -Lee A. Craig, EH.NET

"Olmstead and Rhode illustrate richly the contributions of biological innovations with reference to the historical development of productivity increases associated with a variety of crops and animals." -Jack Kloppenburg, The Journal of American History

"[Creating Abundance will] become a touchstone of agricultural information that historians will use for years."
Western Historical Quarterly, Andrew P. Duffin, Green Mountain College

"Creating Abundance is an enjoyable and informative read for those interested in the development of US agriculture from colonial times to 1940."
Agricultural History, Paul D. Mitchell, University of Wisconsin- Madison

"This book is essential for scholars of this period and beneficial to all who are interested in U.S. history and the state of affairs today."
American Historical Review, Orville Vernon Burton, Coastal Carolina University

"This is a timely and impressive book, offering a radically new perspective on American agricultural history. It should engage both scholars and students for many years to come."
Journal of Southern History, Laura B. Sayre, Yale University

"This collection of provocative essays will doubtless stimulate more debate about how scholars lessons from the past in order to address contemporary problems." -Patrick V. Kirch, Journal of Anthropological Research

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521857116
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/8/2008
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan L. Olmstead is Director of the Institute of Governmental Affairs, Professor of Economics, and member of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California, Davis. He is one of the six editors-in-chief of Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition (2006), and his writings appear regularly in the leading economics and history journals.

Paul W. Rhode is McClelland Professor of Economics at the University of Arizona and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is co-editor (with Gianni Toniolo) of The Global Economy in the 1990s: A Long-Run Perspective (2006). He is a frequent contributor to prominent economics and history journals.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. The red queen and the hard reds: productivity growth in American wheat, 1800–1940; 3. Corn: America's crop; 4. Cotton: variety innovation and the making of king cotton; 5. Weevils, worms, and wilts: the red queen's cotton playground; 6. The other revolution in the cotton economy: cotton's revival in the twentieth century; 7. That 'stinking weed of America': the evolution of tobacco production; 8. California: creating a cornucopia; 9. Livestock in the farm economy; 10. Defining and redesigning America's livestock; 11. Nature's perfect food: inventing the modern dairy industry; 12. Draft power; 13. Conclusion: tying it together.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)