The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape

Counterpoint. Mar. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781640092211. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781640092228. SOC SCI
Lessard (The Architect of Desire) crafts an attentive book that explores how we view and understand our landscape, with a focus on how Americans give meaning and value to their environments. The work is divided into three sections, with the first two dedicated to rural and city landscapes and the third part dealing with businesses and governments that have sought to impose their agendas onto the modern landscape. Much of this follows the author's initial ruminations upon the meaning of beauty. Is it a manicured countryside, an overpopulated suburb, a glass-sheathed skyscraper? Intriguing examples explore how landscapes are viewed by different groups of people. For instance, pastoralism, or the practice of herding livestock, overlooks that these fields were, in many cases, wrought and maintained by slaves. Yet no landscape, argues the author, is without a type of majesty and depth.
VERDICT Lessard's journey through the American landscape provides an insightful glimpse into how the changing of landscape aesthetics reflects concurrent changes in society. For readers interested in a unique blend of geography, sociology, and travel.
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