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Nature's Metropolis book. Read reviews from the world's largest community for readers. In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an enviro.
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Search all titles. Search all titles Search all collections. Your Account Logout. Nature's Metropolis. By Cheryl Hudson. Edition 1st Edition. First Published Imprint Macat Library. Pages pages. Export Citation. The Chicago Board of Trade was intimately involved with these developments, which further resulted in the creation of the allied futures market, with its ability to reduce risks for farmers and provide additional liquidity for the market—and, not incidentally, to make huge fortunes for speculators and those willing to risk trying to corner the market.

This ultimately resulted in state regulation of grain storage, transport and sale to curb the worst abuses. What was once limitless prairie soon enough was plowed for grain, permanently changing, though always in shifting ways, the face of the land. After grain, Cronon turns to two other commodities that are nearly as equally fascinating—lumber and meat. Not me, at least. Unlike grain, though, lumber never developed the same type of ultra-efficient market, in part because it was never possible to fully standardize and turn fungible.

And soon enough, the wood near to Chicago which mostly arrived cheaply by water, at least at the beginning ran out, and the lumber trade was ceded to other regions of the country. The regeneration of the area into what it is today, for recreation and wood pulp, only took place decades later. Cronon covers how Chicago began with pork in competition with Cincinnati; moved into cattle as refrigeration technology, combined with the slaughter of the bison and the changing of western grazing land into range land, permitted greater trade in cattle; and ended, for a while, as meatpacker to the world.

I did not know that Hammond, Indiana, was named for a man who moved there to harvest vast quantities of ice, to refrigerate meat, from the Calumet River. The meatpacking business was predatory, in the sense that the giant meatpackers like Armour deliberately destroyed the local butchers throughout the Great West, but they offered the best prices and quality, so that destruction was functionally inevitable. All these trades, especially railroads and meatpacking, required massive amounts of capital, so Cronon wisely covers capital separately and in detail, basically as another type of commodity.

Louis the cause of whose ultimate second-place finish Cronon assign to the railroads, as well as the Civil War. In this section on capital, Cronon also examines the spread of the capital-intensive market for farm machinery, which relied heavily on the development of efficient credit markets. Finally, Cronon evaluates Chicago when it had clawed its way to the top, through the lens of the Columbian Exhibition of In a similar vein, the new suburbs were designed to offer a polished, sanitized version of the nature whose modification and production made the city possible.

Even less are they opposed to each other, whatever city slickers or the Grangers may think—they instead need each other, often in ways that are totally invisible to both. Jun 08, John rated it it was amazing. So I have this short list of books that I plan on reading when I go to certain places, like how I read "Centennial" when I went to Colorado, I'm going to read Michener's "Texas" when I go to Texas someday, and I'm going to read that book "The Fatal Shore" that every used book store in America has two copies of, someday when I go to Australia. This was my planned Chicago book, even though I knew ahead of time that it isn't really a "history" of Chicago, per se.

It is more of an interpretation of t So I have this short list of books that I plan on reading when I go to certain places, like how I read "Centennial" when I went to Colorado, I'm going to read Michener's "Texas" when I go to Texas someday, and I'm going to read that book "The Fatal Shore" that every used book store in America has two copies of, someday when I go to Australia.

It is more of an interpretation of the explosive rise of Chicago, as Cronon puts it, "the rise and fall of the greatest gateway city of the Great West. What were the forces that made Chicago? Cronon also argues that one cannot understand the history of the "rural" West without the history of the "urban" West I already liked Cronon, and this fit into my interest in environmental history and borderlands history, in addition to my general interest in western expansion and the 19th century.


I am also fascinated by cities and why they rise and fall. Cronon's take on this is really interesting - it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eastern capitalists invested in Chicago because of the water trade routes through the lakes, and once they invested money there, that naturally led to more money being invested.

Where are they going to invest in railways once they are invented? Chicago, naturally, they already have investments to protect there. Money draws more money.

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Book review: “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West” by William Cronon

Because they bet on Chicago to become the metropolis of the west, it became the metropolis of the west. Jan 18, Joseph Stieb rated it liked it Shelves: us-history-non-military. The ideas in this book were really fascinating. Cronon argues that our society's strict dichotomy between nature and city overlooks their tangled histories. Focusing on Chicago, he shows how the rapid growth of this city fueled economic, social, and environmental changes in the Great West in the late 19th century.

Chicago's rise depended largely on its position as a hub, transit point, and eventually a market for grain, lumber, meat, and other product flows. Boosters for Chicago touted its "natu The ideas in this book were really fascinating. Boosters for Chicago touted its "natural advantages," but it actually had to be changed dramatically by human hands to serve these economic purposes. The Great West had to do the same thing Cronon calls these changes "second nature," or the imprints human settlement and resource extraction create on relatively untouched environments that still look ostensibly natural.

A great example of this is the eradication of the buffalo and their replacement with longhorn cattle, or the growth of new types of wheat in the Midwest. We tend to think of these areas as more "natural," but they are deeply shaped by human hands, mostly to serve economic demands emanating from the big city. The settling of the West was not just about frontiersmen and women driving forward, but the largely urban economic forces pushing at their backs.

Cronon also has some pretty interesting descriptions of how railroads worked business-wise and how the grain trade evolved. I give a lot credit to Cronon for making these topics pretty interesting. However, the long accounts of credit, lumber shipments, and other economic activities are more fun to think about than to read about. This book really made me think differently about environmental history and the expansion of human societies and economies into relatively unoccupied lands, but I didn't always enjoy the page by page reading.

That has more to do with my general lack of interest in the topic than in Cronon's skill as a writer and historian. Sep 26, James rated it really liked it. Explanation of the relationship between the "frontier" and the boom of Chicago in the 19th century. Chicago changed previous resources into commodities and was heavily financed by eastern financial interests.

It came to dominate grain, lumber, and meat industries and not only surpassed the previous "gateway" city, St. Louis, but also Philadelphia in total population to become the second largest city by the end of the century. Good book for people looking to connect how modern cities altered the Explanation of the relationship between the "frontier" and the boom of Chicago in the 19th century. Good book for people looking to connect how modern cities altered the relationship between humans and land.

Nov 04, Jeffrey rated it liked it. Very interesting book, although at times it could get boring. I suppose if you are reallyinterested in economic history then it you may like it better.

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As evidence, he offers an extensive look at the simultaneous rise of the western United States and the city of Chicago during the 19th century. At the same time, however, all the small rural, farming communities of that make up that hinterland could never exist without a great metropolitan city in which to sell their goods. In essence, the whole idea that a city and the rural communities around it could exist as separate, individual entities is wrong.

Cronon Brings Soaring Message Down to Earth

They are all part of a single, economic system in which both parts are vital. The flow of these commodities between Chicago and its hinterland show how interconnected and, ultimately, how reliant all these communities were on each other. Before Chicago was even considered a town, people began touting its location as a perfect spot for a city that could connect the Eastern seaboard with farmland in the interior of the continent. Despite several other cities claiming themselves as a better location, and despite several real estate booms and bust in Chicago, it was eventually established as a prime market for shipping goods between the large cities of the East and the population of the Great West.

Initially using waterways, and later an extensive system of railroads, Chicago positioned itself to be the primary collection point for grain and crops traveling from western farms to eastern cities, for lumber traveling from northern forests to western towns and farms, and for cattle and pigs to be butchered, dressed, and packed to places all over the country.

By staying on top of the latest innovations, like grain elevators and refrigerated rail cars, and organizing systems to maintain quality, like establishing uniform grades of grain and the Chicago Board of Exchange, Chicago was able to beat out other major western cities vying for control of those same western lands.

Beyond just these physical commodities, Chicago was also able to gain a large amount of influence over financial and intellectual matters throughout its hinterland. Chicago banks were the main source of lines of credit for many farmers and business owners all across the western U. Through the study of bankruptcy records, Cronon points out that even in communities closer to cities like St. Louis and Minneapolis, Chicago banks owned the majority of debt. Eastern cities like New York and Boston had such a vested interest in Chicago, that they opened their lines of credit to investors in the city thus ensuring its success.

Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and second nature i. He stresses that cities, no matter big and industrious, are still products of the natural world they inhabit. Rather than untouched nature and concrete-filled cities being opposites, they are merely different points on the same spectrum. Neither was possible without the other. Feb 18, Moses Operandi rated it it was amazing Shelves: This is an engaging work of history that uses the rise of Chicago and its agricultural hinterland not as two separate regions that happened to be next to each other, but as integral to the growth of the others.

Basic example: Chicago outgrew St. Louis because its numerous westward rail spurs gave it easy access to western farmers, while its eastward rail links gave it easy access to eastern markets. More fun example: Chicago's market dominance in the railway era led to the peculiar fact that Iow This is an engaging work of history that uses the rise of Chicago and its agricultural hinterland not as two separate regions that happened to be next to each other, but as integral to the growth of the others.

More fun example: Chicago's market dominance in the railway era led to the peculiar fact that Iowa, an area with rich agricultural land and a burgeoning population, never developed a large population center to market its goods - by the time of Iowa's growth, rail links to Chicago stretched across the entire state and any merchandise from wheat to live hogs could be in Chicago within 18 hours. Cronon's writing is clear and convincing. He hailed, as I did, from Wisconsin, and as he mentions in the epilogue, he didn't understand as a child that he lived in Chicago's hinterland.

I didn't either. The breadth of my understanding has now increased. More books like this, please! Jan 27, Dylan rated it really liked it.

Nature's Metropolis

Takeaway: Buy and read, but don't be afraid to flip ahead or put it down a little early. A must read for anyone interested in economic history, agriculture, animal studies, or infrastructure studies. Cons: The end of the book loses the thread of the book's overall thesis and sort of drags to a stop. The lumber chapter could have been trimmed.

Jan 15, Michael rated it it was amazing Shelves: history-technology , 1st-library-zotero , history-us. At the same time as they came to constitute an infrastructure that enabled the national market, railroads also transform the way Americans perceived space and time. Doing away with localism, the railroads introduced "a new capitalist logic to the geography of the Great West. Rhetorical excesses or not, these flights of fancy evoke the genuine awe which the railroads inspired.

An awe which obscured the social and economic process taking place as the railroads crossed the great western lands. Railroads transcended the limitations of geography like no other transportation system had before. Unlike the river transport systems of the past, railroads could be built to fit engineers' conceptions of efficient construction, thereby liberating the transport system from the limitations of geography in a way not possible in the past. For the farmers of the Midwest as producers, the greatest benefit was the freedom which rail transport allowed them from the constraints of muddy roads.

From the perspective of consumption, the railroad brought the latest goods and fashions from New York and Paris year round. No longer did Chicago's consumers need to wait for the spring thaw. In addition to overcoming geography, railroads transformed time and space in powerful ways. When railroads and telegraph lines reached Chicago in the early s, a two week trip to NY now took two days and messages that had taken weeks to travel to Chicago now took seconds.

With the increased efficiency of rail travel over traditional conveyances of wagons and boats, farmers began to value their own time more highly. Why take a wagon over bad roads and waste now precious time when rail transport was so much more efficient? With this new emphasis on the value of time, the mechanical clock came to replace natural cycles. Rail travel isolated the passenger from the weather and provided a safe and regular way to move people and goods.

The most powerful testament to the power of railroads over time and space is the adoption of standard time. By , the railroad adopted standard time doing away with the local times along the rail routes. On November 18, the railroads established 4 time zones. This standardization brought greater safety by allowing improved coordination of rail traffic. With standardization of time just one of the daunting management tasks which the railroad owners faced, the management of railroads accelerated the concentration of capital and ownership of a wide range of infrastructure including "land, rails, locomotives, cars and stations, not to mention the labor and fuel that kept everything moving.

Further notes directly from the text: In his "Preface" to the book, Cronon builds on the insight from his historiography of the Frontier thesis. He writes a history of the connections between the city of Chicago and the West, not a comprehensive history of either. He does this my looking at commodities as they flow from the producers on the periphery, through the metropolis of Chicago and on to the markets of the East and beyond.

Chicago is in this sense the gateway to the Great American West. In his own words: In Nature's Metropolis, I describe one aspect of the frontier experience on a very macro level: the expansion of a metropolitan economy into regions that had not previously been tightly bound to its markets, and the absorption of new peripheral areas into a capitalist orbit. Frontier areas lay on the periphery of the metropolitan economy, while cities like New York and London lay near its center. Chicago sat in between, on the boundary between East and West as those regions were defined in the nineteenth century.

He is an excellent narrator and the tale is fascinating. In Part II of this book, entitled "Nature to Market," he talks about the commodification of three products -- grain, lumber and meat. The section "Annihilating Space: Meat" describes the industrialization of the commodification of meat. In the s and 50s the yards were run by an assemblage of different owners in a more or less haphazard way with cattle and pig drives coming in from the hinterland.

With the coming of the railroads, however, things changed. The railroads could provide the means to escape these problems and transform Chicago's role in the meat trade. The solution -- the single unified stockyard would concentrate the city's livestock business at one location -- was proposed in the fall of , when Chicago's nine largest railroads, in conjunction with members of the Chicago Pork Packers Association, issues a prospectus for what they called the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company.

In its plush, even luxurious environs, they build an intricate network of trade that abstracted them from the killing happening right outside the door. Starting in Illinois and Indiana, and moving west further in the country beyond the Missouri River, stood the high grass plains of Nebraska and Wyoming -- with a population in the s of Native Americans and as many at 40 Million Bison.

Suddenly it became possible for market and sport hunters alike to reach the herds with little effort, shipping back robes and tongues and occasional trophy heads as the only valuable parts of the animals they killed. Sport hunters in particular enjoyed the practice of shooting into the herds without ever leaving the trains. As they neared a herd, passengers flung open the windows of their cars, pointed their breechloaders, and fired randomly into the frightened beasts. Dozens might die within minutes, and rot where they fell after the train disappeared without stopping.

The white Americans moving westward were able to defeat the Native Sioux and others because they had destroyed the bison on which native life depended. The defeat of Custer at Little Big Horn was a minor victory on the road to defeat. As the Bison were slaughtered, "Open Range" was transformed into fenced grazing land for cattle ranchers.

The railway network allowed Chicago to extend its reach as far as a thousand miles into the hinterland. The demand for packaged pork in the early 19th C was huge. Unlike cattle, which take well to being herded to a market and could thus be slaughtered near the place were they were to be eaten, hogs are less amenable to herding and were thus often slaughtered where raised and prepared there for shipment elsewhere.

Pork packing was an early industry that sprung up on the frontier. As Buffalo rose to prominence in commerce in grain through the pioneering grain elevator system, so Cincinnati, Ohio located at the confluence of rivers developed an early dominance in the pork packing trade by pioneering the "disassembly line. The limitation on river based shipment of live hogs had restricted business in Cincinnati during the winter also affected the fledgling Chicago pork packing industry early on.

In Chicago they invested in the infrastructure to build slaughter houses along the same lines as Cincinnati, and they started to use the rail lines to ship in ice to preserve pork and also beef. Combining ice harvesting with rail transport, Chicago meat packers gained the ability to "Store the Winter. He also added icing stations along the rail lines to keep the beef in good condition. They also had the huge task of convincing people in the East, used to eating freshly slaughtered beef, that beef killed over a thousand miles away was appetizing and safe.

The Chicago packers had a real price advantage with dressed beef over fresh, as they only had to ship the edible part of the steer at first the railroads resisted this move because it would mean less tonnage shipped on their line, until Swift started shipping using the lesser used Grand Trunk Line that skirted the Great Lakes. Also Swift was a pioneer in the marketing of dressed beef, cutting up the meat in attractive ways for display at the market.

He was also brilliant at co-opting the local beef wholesale butcher, having his agents set up partnerships with them to win them over. When they encountered resistance, their economies of scale allowed them to sell at very low prices to establish a foothold in the market. The efficiency of these operations was abetted by the combinations which packers entered into to protect prices.

Stock raisers who were hurt by economic slowdowns joined with the wholesale butchers in opposition to the packers. The meat packers of Chicago were possessed by the same pursuit of efficiency that would animate the progressive reformers that followed them. They came up with uses for unused parts of the slaughtered animals, producing a wide variety of meat byproducts. Yet, this was not unalloyed "progress," since the pollution created by the packing plants and the dangers of adulterated product were ever present.

Sinclair Lewis' The Jungle would drive this home in , but the practices described by the muckraking journalist were going on long before his muckraking expose. Cronon points to the fact that if we are too caught up in the progressive revolt against the combinations that ran the packing business, we may forget that, as a congressional commission later pointed out, Because of the Chicago packers, ranchers in Wyoming and feedlot farmers in Iowa regularly found a reliable market for their animals, and on average received better prices for the animals they sold there, At the same time and for the same reason, Americans of all classes found a greater variety of more and better meats on their tables, purchased on average at lower prices than ever before.

Seen in this light, the packers "rigid system of economy" seemed a very good thing indeed.

The tDAxp eXPerience

The legacy of figures like Armor and Swift is not so much a personal one of entrepreneurial leadership, as one of large impersonal corporations they left behind, corporations managed by professional managers who, like the consumers, were dissociated from the acts of slaughtering animals. The legacy of the meat packers was one of "Unremembered Deaths" in the stockyards of the South side, which fell into disuse as the corporate form liberated the business from the geographic location in the city. By the s, the rise of diesel fueled trucking made the economic advantage of the railroad concentration at Chicago less beneficial.

As meat packing plants opened at other locations more strategically situated, the stockyard shut down all meatpacking in and then closed in Mar 18, David Fulmer rated it it was amazing. The author, William Cronon, has a thorough knowledge of his subject and the footnotes and bibliography collect an exhaustive list of sources for every possible angle on the development of Chicago in the nineteenth century. His thesis that the history of a city and its surrounding countryside cannot be told separately leads him to an exploration of many of the important industries which shaped the environment of the midwest during the nineteenth century.

Another chapter describes the lumber industry which was almost a city within the city and inspired loggers in Wisconsin and Michigan to reduce numerous pine forests to vast cutover districts. Sections on the meat packing industry and the mail order catalog businesses of Montgomery Ward and Sears are enriched with many details that demonstrate both the effect the city had on its more sparsely populated hinterland and the way in which the ecology of the region drove changes in the area and was changed by the development of the concentrated settlement of people.

Cronon enlivens what can at times be dry historical material with stories about the inventions and the technology that accelerated change in the American west like the the refrigerated railroad car, barbed wire, and the balloon frame house. Another focus of the book is the capital flows that promoted and supported the development of Chicago and the west.

From real estate speculation in the s to the coming of the railroads a few decades later, many of the changes to Chicago were financed by investors in the east. Cronon also did extensive research into the credit and debt of bankrupts in the s to illustrate the extent of the commercial connections that played such an important role in the growth of Chicago. This is an important, fascinating history of Chicago and the west, of its businesses and industries, its ecologies and environments.

Cronon has succeeded in making the history of Chicago during the nineteenth century both historically interesting and fascinating on a more personal level by describing the rise and decline of industries and corporations as well as the stories of individuals including entrepreneurs, farmers, and workers who both caused and reacted to, sometimes unsuccessfully, the changes brought on by the growth of Chicago. Mar 23, Vincent rated it it was amazing Shelves: 19th-century-america. For Cronon, city and country are inextricably linked, their survival and success a result of financial symbiosis.

One needed the other despite popular notions, then and now, of the two being of separate domains, of the country being of nature and the city being somehow apart from it. Cronon combines environmental and economic history to craft a compelling synthesis of urban and rural, infusing his own perspective in memoir-ish fashion to open and close his work. Cronon organizes his argument into three parts.

The first part establishes the ecological and logistical foundations upon which Chicago grew and examines contemporary theories of city and country relationship, including those of Boosters whose goals were to build Chicago into a great city. Farmers no longer had to travel great distances with their goods, giving them more time to improve their farms and business ties. Chicago, by serving as a midpoint between eastern and western railroads, became the sale market for the entire midcontinent. The second part of the book explores the ways in which three chief products - grain, lumber, and meat - went from resources to commodities and completely reshaped the landscape.

Grain elevators made farmers and merchants rethink how they approached grain, causing the resource to be sold in bulk rather than in sacks, separated by quality and deposited as though in a bank. Receipts for the deposits became a currency and created a new futures market in Chicago.


Traders in Chicago, elevator operators, and farmers formed a trifecta of mutual dependence, though they regularly mistrusted each other. In the s, Chicago became the single greatest lumber market in the world. Cheap, light timber allowed both the city to grow as well as the prairie population, where balloon-frame houses popped up across the frontier.

However, due to this, the north woods became a vast desolate land of Cutovers. The last commodity which Cronon details in gory prose is the disappearance of bison from the open plains and the ushering in of cattle and fenced properties. Corn was now reserved for fattening up livestock in feedlots, which were then shipped to Chicago and efficiently butchered on dissembly lines. Meat packing and refrigerated rail cars made Chicago meat cheap and desirable in the East.

Throughout his analysis, Cronon focuses on the entrepreneurs who revolutionized, profited by, and sometimes slipped into bankruptcy while navigating these new commodities and markets. Cronon completes the second part with an explanation of how Chicago became a gateway city between the West and the Northeast and Europe - surpassing St.

Visitors to Chicago were both attracted to and repulsed by what they saw, and vice and crime gave the illusion of separation between city and country, yet Cronon insists that it was largely country people who were both supplying and buying said vices. In the end, the city and country were interdependent and interrelated - two sides of the same coin - despite what residents chose to believe.

He reveals just how interconnected the city was with its surrounding hinterlands, not forgetting also the ties back east and beyond. Cronon manages the feat with grace and infuses his own voice into the narrative. We still mentally separate meat from its warm, beating source - I have a vivid memory of driving by a farm and seeing parents showing their smiling children the docile cows on the other side of the fence while biting obliviously into Big Macs. We still tend to see city and country at odds, as dominions foreign and in conflict - certainly, our political maps and rhetoric suggest as much - and we are too often blinded to our shared interests, our codependence, and our effects, good and bad, upon each other.

We forget, but fortunately the market, as Cronon has shown, does not. Dec 20, Max Potthoff rated it it was amazing Shelves: environmental-history. This book is incredibly influential in shaping my view of the landscape that I come from, live in. I admire Cronon for his self-awareness of how European pastoralism animates his present interests and historical identity. The evocative image that he uses-of smokestack and Green Lake-do a lovely job of illustrating the schizophrenic and paradoxical relationship that define rural and urban spaces in our cultural consciousness.

City and Country are products of the same historical trend, and as such This book is incredibly influential in shaping my view of the landscape that I come from, live in. City and Country are products of the same historical trend, and as such their identities are intimately intertwined.

I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the Chicago suburbs in the latter half of the book, and how they were an intentionally created fiction that blended the comforting, quite images of pastoral rural life with the convenience and culture of the city. Absent from this setting were the hardships and products created by either. It helped me understand why people feel isolated in the suburbs, I think.

If folks aren't aware of their history and place in the landscape, then they have nothing to hold onto. No place exists in isolation, and the markets and capital of Chicago are a great example of that fact. When one looks at grain futures a Chicago creation , one can see how the abstract concept of capital completely and totally transformed the physical landscape of the entire region. This is a major aspect of Cronon's thesis, and he applies it to other "commodities" such as the white pines of Wisconsin, wheat of the plains, ice of Wisconsin lakes, throughout the entire book.

Cronon spends a lot of his time in the late 19th century, but his arguments explain many of the dynamic tensions that exist in our relationship to the American landscape today. In one of Cronon's later sections, focused on the World's Columbian Exposition, he quotes Henry Adams, a "detached observer" and American historian descended from the Adams clan-"Chicago asked in for the first time the question whether the American people knew where they were driving.

Chicago was the first expression of American thought as a unity; one must start here. It's a journey worth taking. Feb 06, Kelli Peters rated it liked it. Cronon argues that the line between city and country, urban and rural is far less distinct that Americans believe.

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West - Semantic Scholar

Cronon claims that one cannot exist without the other and that city and countryside are inextricably connected because of the development of metropolis cities, like Chicago, throughout history. Cronon acutely analyzes the way the city and countryside are linked through a series of economic and ecological developments. He provides strong evidence to demonstrate that Chicago was not only linked to the immediate surrounding area, but a large swath of countryside that stretched west towards the Rockies.

Cronon takes a meaty subject and breaks it down so that the reader can explicitly see these connections for their self.

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Cronon also connects to the reader on a personal level by describing how his own experiences as a child influenced his study of Chicago and the hinterland and how he, and others, can begin to recognize the connections between city and countryside in our own world. Jan 15, Sean Munger rated it it was amazing.