PrairyErth: A Deep Map

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Overview

Three months on the New York Times bestseller list, PrairyErth is now in paperback. Robert Penn Warren pronounced Heat-Moon's Blue Highways "a masterpiece." Now Heat-Moon has pulled to the side of the road and set off on foot to take readers on an exploration of time and space, landscape and history in the Flint Hills of central Kansas.

Three months on the New York Times bestseller list, PrairyErth is now in paperback. Robert Penn Warren pronounced Heat-Moon's Blue ...

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Overview

Three months on the New York Times bestseller list, PrairyErth is now in paperback. Robert Penn Warren pronounced Heat-Moon's Blue Highways "a masterpiece." Now Heat-Moon has pulled to the side of the road and set off on foot to take readers on an exploration of time and space, landscape and history in the Flint Hills of central Kansas.

Three months on the New York Times bestseller list, PrairyErth is now in paperback. Robert Penn Warren pronounced Heat-Moon's Blue Highways "a masterpiece." Now Heat-Moon has pulled to the side of the road and set off on foot to take readers on an exploration of time and space, landscape and history in the Flint Hills of central Kansas. Serial rights to The Atlantic. Maps.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A good hearted book about the heart of the country." The New York Times

"Our modern-day Walden." The Chicago Sun-Times

"Bill McKibben has called this book "the deepest map anyone ever made of an American place"—a majestic survey of land and time and people in a single county of the Kansas plains. It takes the author—by car, on foot, and in mind—into the core of our continent and backward and forward through a brilliant spectrum of time and place." The Hungry Mind Review

Hungry Mind Review
"The Moby Dick of American history."--Hungry Mind Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Whereas Blue Highways dealt with Heat-Moon's auto trip across America, PrairyErth (an old term for heartland soils) records a journey mostly on foot across the tallgrass prairies and grasslands of Chase County, Kans. In a great cornucopia of a book, a majestic, healing hymn to America's potential, Heat-Moon attempts to penetrate the spirit of the land, a land which explorer Zebulon Pike and later white settlers stole from the Kansa (Kaw) Indians. There are now only six full-blood Kaw survivors, most of whom live on a reservation in Oklahoma. Heat-Moon writes of a feminist rancher who hires women primarily, of a farm couple swept aloft by a tornado, of abolitionists who wanted slaves free but not equal. He pauses to ponder fence posts, arrowheads and the nesting habits of pack rats. He talks to conservationists and coyote hunters, excerpts pioneer diaries and recreates the 1931 airplane crash that killed football hero Knute Rockne. Each chapter is prefaced by a map and by pages of quotations ranging from Thoreau to Frank Lloyd Wright. First serial to the Atlantic; BOMC selection. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This new work from the author of Blue Highways ( LJ 11/1/82) is an immersion into the past, present, and future of Chase County in south central Kansas. Located in the heart of the Flint Hills, the sparsely populated area contains one of the best remaining tracts of tallgrass prairie that once covered much of the Midwest. (``PrairyErth'' is an old geologic term for prairie soils). Having spent six years engaging in ``participatory history,'' Heat-Moon creates a feel for the land and a rural way of life that seems to be dead or dying across America. Dividing his book into quadrangles, he presents a verbal map that examines the county's geological, natural, and human history. This is a fascinating book that could be improved only with the addition of an index. Highly recommended, especially for local, natural, and Western history collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/91; BOMC selection.-- Tim Markus, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, Wash.
Kirkus Reviews
The long-awaited return of Heat-Moon, whose bestselling Blue Highways (1983) ranged far and wide on the byways of America, offers a memorable view of the American heartland—in the form of a splendid survey/view of a single Kansas county, the location of the last remaining expanse of tall-grass prairie. Through hundreds of vignettes and thumbnail sketches, constituting a meticulous examination of the hills and households of rural Chase County, Heat-Moon lays down a fascinating grid of interlocking experiences gathered over a five-year period. Each section of the book starts with materials from the author's "commonplace book," in which relevant passages taken from 19th- and 20th-century ruminations on the American West and Kansas prepare the thematic ground for the material to follow. Facts, observations, chance encounters, and personal detail intermingle superbly in a unique travelogue, as both the "countians" and the many facets of their world are revealed and transformed by gentle metaphysical speculations. Feminist caf‚-owners and retired limestone cutters give of themselves in their own words, while discussions of prairie soil and Osage oranges, recent native history, and distant geologic events enrich the human connections. One samples these offerings as easily as one might ramble through the stacks of a well-stocked, highly personalized library, effortlessly acquiring in the process more information than seems possible about the American experience. Rewarding and restless, evocative in its parts and deeply resonant as a whole, this is a strong successor to Blue Highways, establishing Heat-Moon as a master chronicler in the grand tradition. (Maps and drawings.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395925690
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Edition description: None
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 229,394
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Under the name of William Least Heat-Moon, William Trogdon is the author of two best-selling classics BLUE HIGHWAYS and PRAIRYERTH. His newest book is RIVER-HORSE: A VOYAGE ACR0SS AMERICA. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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Read an Excerpt

Along this fossil highway, even though it lies in the bottomlands that have always belonged mostly to the trees, I am walking in the time of the birth of the tallgrass prairie, that epoch when turfy perennials - bluestems and gramas, panicums and ryes - began covering the American interior as the old sea, now turned to a limestone anchor, once did. Down in here, the rock is the worn concrete, yet, as hard as it is, the cement road is nevertheless a fissured seedbed, a string of a glade full of brand-new prairie, an extinct highway giving birth to grassland.

Now: I've walked half this remnant, and I've found big bluestem and little bluestem, silvery bluestem, cord grass, wild rye, sunflower, bundle flower, catclaw sensitive briar, and also plants of the woodlands, including a clump of garden iris from I don't know where. But this strip is not a relict Pleistocene prairie because there probably never was much grass in this low spot in the bottoms: a vestigial highway, yes, but a new prairie. The native forbs and grasses have come in on the wind and maybe on the floods, and now they have roots under the pavement, and soon the prairie plants will need fire to clear away the shading and moisture-sucking trees, and until then the infant prairie can do little more than begin.

Prairie birth: in an earlier time, men believed the grasslands came as a consequence of infertile ground, or an absence of coarse soil material, or from glaciation, from bison trampling, lightning fires, Indian fires, from persistent wind, drought, temperature extremes.

But Chase County has good soil of various composition, the ice sheets did not reach here, and the temperature range and rainfall differ only a little from the woodlands of Missouri. The other "reasons" - fire, wind, grazing - contribute less to the birth of prairie than to its maintenance. No: the source of the prairie is its midcontinental position, far from tempering seas, where it lies under an eolian cleavage zone that mixes westerlies, wrung dry by the Rocky Mountains, with humid air from the Gulf: here, inches of evaporation and precipitation are nearly equal, and here, above my head, the rain- shadow of the Rockies meets in commensurate strength the humid Gulf fronts so that this land can grow ten-foot grasses and ninety-foot sycamores, and which one prevails depends mostly on one thing: fire. In the last half-century, the balance has careened toward trees because white men have suppressed the keeper of the grasses. To the prairie, the voice of the Great Mysterious speaks in three tongues: water, wind, flame. This glade beginning in the abandoned highway has heard the first two, and now this slender quarter mile of incipient prairie could use a tossed cigarette from a Santa Fe trackman so that the highway can flourish as never before.

Copyright (C)1992 by William Least Heat-Moon. Reprinted by permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 5, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    You will need a good and true compass

    This is indeed a deep map. William Least Heat-Moon presents the multifaceted layering of history of the Flint Hills in Kansas from which forms a map that is more than geographic. The book requires a deep participation and listening that is more than the eyes passing over the pages. This is a soulful reading. A nice tying together of place and people with their extended history and geography. Highly recommended for those interested in Kansas, prairie, maps, geography and who want more out of history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2012

    William Least Heat-Moon never disappoints....

    As usual, William Least Heat-Moon has not disappointed me. PrairyErth takes me to a part of the country I know almost nothing about and the author does it in his usual manner - in interesting detail. He makes me feel the breezes and "see" the landscape, and feel the touch of what he is touching. I get to know people I would otherwise not even imagine. While I preferred his Blue Highway, River Horse, and Road to Quoz books - I am still very glad to have read this book, and I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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