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Publishers WeeklyAuthor and Vanderbilt University history professor Conkin (The State of the Earth: Environmental Challenges on the Road to 2100) grew up on a subsistence farm in Tennessee, working summers as a harvest hand, and members of his family still farm. As such, he's personally witnessed many of the radical changes he covers in this practical, thorough and clearly-written story of the American farm's 20th century transformation into the world's breadbasket. Along the journey from family homestead to hyper-efficient industrial farm, the most useful chapters explain the origin and development of convoluted federal and state farm policy (and why attempts at reforms so often fail) for both rural and urban taxpayers. Throughout, Conkin documents from all sides the clever advances that began mechanizing agriculture right after the Civil War, driving spectacular improvements in efficiency, but also a complete dependence on cheap oil and a cycle of debt many farmers cannot escape. A final chapter examines even-handedly various types of "alternative" farming, proving Conkin no dreamy devotee of "organic" trends. This cogent, thorough history should prove fascinating for anyone interested in the changing landscape of American agriculture. 198 photographs.
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