Date of this Version
Published in Great Plains Research 19.2 (Fall 2009): 245-46.
Marvin Gloege has assembled an impressive array of information about demographic trends affecting the small communities of eastern Montana. Survival or Gradual Extinction examines the state of 22 communities and poses a question of deep importance both to their residents and to those who believe there is value in preserving America’s small communities and the way of life they afford: will they be able to retain populations of sufficient size to survive? Though the title of the book indicates that Gloege’s primary concern is about the future of these communities, he does a better job of documenting the historical conditions that have shaped them than of providing analysis that might offer hints about their futures, or the futures of towns like them.
The book begins with historical background on the rising and falling populations (and fortunes) of the rural communities of the Great Plains. The author then profiles 22 communities in Eastern Montana, including brief histories and assessments of their current status. Because he selects only towns whose populations have declined, the current state of many seems bleak. As populations shrink, many of the communities face the challenges shared by rural towns across the country: population loss feeds vicious cycles of loss of important infrastructure such as schools and businesses, which in turn fuels subsequent losses of population. These profiles might serve as a useful blueprint for students or researchers interested in studying small communities. The urban planning perspective Gloege brings to this work leads him to acquaint the reader with the key features of infrastructure any student of community life must take into account. He might have done better to select fewer case communities, however, or to profile all 22 but offer more detailed examinations of a small subset; the short profiles make it difficult to provide the depth that would help him answer the question posed by the book’s title.