In this graceful collection, Howard Mansfield looks anew at the New England region he's called home for over twenty years. He studies the beautiful stonework of granite bridges with a local expert; contemplates the deserted second and third stories of the old mercantile buildings that populate New England's towns and cities; and considers the cemeteries and roadside shrines that punctuate the landscape. Each exploratory adventure is written with Mansfield's typical wit and passion in prose so smooth that the deeper questions he raises appear with startling poignancy. How do our local landmarks narrate the past? What is history? Should we — can we — preserve its artifacts for the future? A kind of elegy for the built environment and dying customs of New England life, these essays will challenge anyone's notions of home, history, and the future that jeopardizes both.
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About the Author
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.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.” —