Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World

Harper. Jan. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9780062938336. $29.99. SOC SCI
The land, and how we divide, demarcate, and economize it, has a history and culture of its own. Accomplished writer Winchester (Krakatoa; The Map That Changed the World) furthers his work on humans and their interaction with the land in this wide-ranging account. He begins with a discussion about a patch of land he purchased in Dutchess County, NY, using this strip of earth as a stepping-stone into the concept of land ownership and the broader concept of human interaction with geography. While the land seems solid and immutable, it has changed dramatically over geologic time. The occupants of the land have also changed: Native Americans lived in the New York area for thousands of years, followed by Dutch and then English settlers. Winchester also points out that map boundaries are extremely political, illustrating stark divisions such as the independence and subsequent break between Catholic Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1921. Land itself is a topic of great concern. Colonizers of foreign lands often do not understand the local ecology, as when British settlers in Australia dismissed the Aboriginal practice of controlled underbrush fires, leading to devastating fires today. Winchester also points out that land is at risk, including a discussion on rising sea levels.
VERDICT Winchester’s large audience will enjoy this well-worded, interdisciplinary look into the relationship between humans and the land.
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