Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership

Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership

by Andro Linklater
     
 

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From the author of the acclaimed Measuring America, a dazzling chronicle, through history and across cultures, about how the ability to own the land we inhabit has shaped modern society.

Barely two centuries ago, most of the world's productive land still belonged either communally to traditional societies or to the higher powers of monarch or church.…  See more details below

Overview

From the author of the acclaimed Measuring America, a dazzling chronicle, through history and across cultures, about how the ability to own the land we inhabit has shaped modern society.

Barely two centuries ago, most of the world's productive land still belonged either communally to traditional societies or to the higher powers of monarch or church. But that pattern, and the ways of life that went with it, were consigned to history by, Andro Linklater persuasively argues, the most creative and at the same time destructive cultural force in the modern era-the idea of individual, exclusive ownership of land.

Spreading from both shores of the north Atlantic, it laid waste to traditional communal civilizations, displacing entire peoples from their homelands, but at the same time brought into being a unique concept of individual freedom and a distinct form of representative government and democratic institutions. By contrast, as Linklater demonstrates, other great civilizations, in Russia, China, and the Islamic world, evolved very different structures of land ownership and thus very different forms of government and social responsibility.

The history and evolution of landownership is a fascinating chronicle in the history of civilization, offering unexpected insights about how various forms of democracy and capitalism developed, as well as a revealing analysis of a future where the Earth must sustain nine billion lives. Seen through the eyes of remarkable individuals-Chinese emperors; German peasants; the seventeenth century English surveyor William Petty, who first saw the connection between private property and free-market capitalism; the American radical Wolf Ladejinsky, whose land redistribution in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea after WWII made possible the emergence of Asian tiger economies-Owning the Earth presents a radically new view of mankind's place on the planet.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
12/01/2013
Prompted by the 2009 global financial crisis, Linklater (Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History) set out to understand and explain the origins of such events in the politics of private land ownership. He presents a narrative and an argument, the narrative beginning in the author's 15th-century home in England, which dates from the time that the concept of private ownership of land began there. Linklater goes on to chronicle the transformation of land ownership around the globe—ranging from Russian feudalism to India's Green Revolution and beyond—culminating in the wealth disparities left by the systemic failure of property-driven democracy on both sides of the Atlantic. Linklater provides this account as support for his argument that politics, with its attention to rights and ownership, offers a more sustainable basis for society than does economics, with its growth imperative. His accessible historical anecdotes, more compelling as narrative than argument, will appeal to readers of popular history, e.g., Simon Winchester's The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible. In contrast to Winchester's primary focus on human protagonists, the theme of land ownership unifies Linklater's narrative. He emphasizes the implications of land ownership on American democracy. VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in well-documented yet comprehensible and not overly academic global histories. [See "More of the Best," p. 29.—Ed.]—Jennifer M. Miller, Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/23/2013
In this masterly work, Linklater (Measuring America) views modern history through the lens of land ownership, considering a variety of modes that includes private ownership, ownership by the state or its ruler, and the communalism found in many traditional societies. While he concentrates on the United States and other major economies, his geographic scope also touches on all continent with arable land, with examples from countries as diverse as Borneo and Sweden. Linklater begins his history in the 1500s, when the idea first appeared that common men might own a piece of land, and extends through recent economic upheavals to the present day. His intellectual range is as wide as his geographic or temporal range, spanning from Hobbes to Greenspan and including philosophers, politicians, religious figures, and academics; an extensive notes section and bibliography allow readers to further pursue his source ideas. For Linklater, private property is paradoxical because “although it promotes individuality, it only works by giving equal weight to the public interest.” By focusing on land ownership, the emphasis in historical interpretation shifts from economics to politics, giving a much different perspective. This reinterpretation of global history will give readers of history, politics, and economics much to think about. Agent: Peter Robinson; Rogers, Coleridge, & White (U.K.) (Nov.)
From the Publisher

“The dilemma of liberty and ownership takes center stage in polymath Andro Linklater's exhilarating Owning the Earth…[It] is a magnificent achievement, a fascinating survey of what it has meant at various times to own or take possession of land, and of how landowning has shaped the way we perceive the world and our place in it…There is something almost boyish about the execution and energy of this book, the way it races on makes the reader feel as if transported on a Phileas Foggian adventure through the history of ideas.” —Wall Street Journal

“[A] masterly work...[Linklater's] intellectual range is as wide as his geographic or temporal range. This reinterpretation of global history will give readers of history will give readers of history, politics, and economics much to think about.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[A] careful, comprehensive historical study…the subject matter is so important and his dedication so thorough that this singular work should be welcomed by all readers.” —Booklist

“A pertinent, wide-ranging comparative study...vast, evenhanded and worthy of rumination.” —Kirkus

Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-20
A pertinent, wide-ranging comparative study of the unleashing of the "monster" of private property, which has both enriched and enslaved populations. English historian Linklater (Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die: The Assassination of a British Prime Minister, 2012, etc.) focuses on the history of land ownership as driving human activity from the earliest ages and being the key to the creation of democracy. Were people merely custodians of the land, which belonged to God first and deputized to his representative on Earth, the monarch? Indigenous societies across North America, the Australian Outback and African savannah believed the land was communally owned and used, while in most of the rest of the world--e.g., Russia, China and India--"peasants worked, landlords possessed, but ultimately the earth was deemed to belong to its creator." Evolving from the collision of crown and chief barons that resulted in the Magna Carta, the impetus for owning land gained steam in the 1500s in England with the land revolution, which displaced subsistence farming via the feudal system in favor of a few rich owners profiting from the buying of land and increasing yields. Enclosures went up, Henry VIII seized monastic land, populations grew and the Pilgrims, flung across the sea in their biblical experiment, decided that possession of New England was earned by the human toil put into it. Linklater pursues the clarification of the rights to private property through writings by Richard Overton, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, among others, and the emergence of "two capitalisms": one, the Dutch model, top-heavy and feudal; the other, unregulated and guided by the "invisible hand" of supply and demand à la Adam Smith. Yet what makes Linklater's study truly useful is his comparative global view, exploring conditions within Russia, Poland, the Ottoman Empire to China and India, and through the present real estate market crash. Vast, evenhanded and worthy of rumination.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781620402900
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
11/12/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
496
File size:
5 MB

Meet the Author

Andro Linklater was the acclaimed author of Measuring America, The Fabric of America, An Artist in Treason, and Why Spencer Perceval Had to Die. He died in 2013.
Andro Linklater was the author of Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy as well as The Code of Love and several other books. He lived in England.

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