Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2005


Published in Great Plains Research 15:2 (Fall 2005). Copyright © 2005 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


Geoff Cunfer has written an important book about the interaction between humans and nature in the Great Plains between 1870 and the end of the twentieth century. It will be useful to those involved in environmental and ecological science, agriculture and agricultural history, as well as economic history and economic development. One of the largest agricultural landscapes in the U.S., the Great Plains was at one time thought of as "the Great American Desert," and the Northern Great Plains was the last region to be settled on the agricultural frontier. Interpretation of Great Plains history is split between two camps. The older is the optimistic view of Turner and Webb of adaptive settlement that gradually brought advancement for the region's inhabitants as new crops, techniques, equipment, and access to water harnessed the land for improved agriculture. The other is the bleaker view of Worster, Cronon, White, and others who stress the inappropriateness of farm settlement and the corresponding degradation of the region's environment.