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Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World

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The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property—our proprietary relationship with the land—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future. Land—whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city—is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies an The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property—our proprietary relationship with the land—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future. Land—whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city—is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing—and have done—with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world’s land—and why does it matter? 


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The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property—our proprietary relationship with the land—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future. Land—whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city—is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies an The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property—our proprietary relationship with the land—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future. Land—whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city—is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing—and have done—with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world’s land—and why does it matter? 

30 review for Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. - from Chief Sealth’s letter to President Pierce on a treaty giving much of what is now Washington state over for white settlement What are the three most important things in real estate? All together now, “Location, location, location.” Simon Winchest This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. - from Chief Sealth’s letter to President Pierce on a treaty giving much of what is now Washington state over for white settlement What are the three most important things in real estate? All together now, “Location, location, location.” Simon Winchester, in his usual way, has offered us a grand tour of land, and thus real estate on our planet. Note the subtitle, How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World). This is not the broker’s walk-through in which the good elements are highlighted while the less appealing aspects are minimized or ignored. It may be that location is the most important property of land, but there are other features that are worth knowing too. Things like How much land is there? How do we know? How was it measured, by whom, and why? Is the amount of land fixed? Can it increase or decrease? Can land be made unusable? Where is everything? Who can make use of it? Is land inherently public, for (reasonable) use by all? Was it ever? How did it come to be private? How do different cultures think about land? Why is land divided up the way it is, into public and private, into parcels of particular size? Who gets to own land, and who is relegated to merely renting it? Winchester has answers. Land is the defining characteristic of every nation. Our (the USA’s) national anthem, for example, goes "O'er the land of the free" not o’er the pond, lake, river or fjord of the free, (and no, Norway's anthem makes no specific mention of fjords), not the sweet air of the free, not the great views of the free (although “spacious skies” and "purple mountain majesties" from our other national anthem, America the Beautiful, comes close), but the land. Check your nation of choice for common ground re this. (Click for a list of anthems) The word "land" figures prominently Although I suggest you check out the Algerian lyrics. Dude, switch to decaf. The war is over. Land is seminal in human culture as well as national history. For many of us in the West, our very origin story begins with a landlord-tenant dispute. “If we owned the garden instead of renting it, Adam, I could have eaten the goddam apple and it would have been nobody’s business but my own. And we wouldn’t have to put up with the creepy landlord spying on us all the time, or his freaky feathered bouncer. The guy should get a hobby, make some friends or something.” Simon Winchester at home in his study in the Berkshires – image from The Berkshire Eagle - Photo: Andrew Blechman This is the eighth Winchester I have read, of his fifteen non-fiction books (so, plenty left to get to) and they have all been engaging, informative, and charming. He read Geology at Oxford, so, has a particular soft spot for explaining how physical things on our planet came to be where they are, how they changed over time, and why they exist in the forms they have taken on. You might be interested in the Atlantic Ocean, maybe the Pacific? Winchester has written a book on each. How about looking at the creation of the world’s first geological map, or maybe why Krakatoa blew its top. He is also interested in tracing back how we know what we know, (or, um, history) as a crucial element of understanding things as they are now, and how they came to be. The Perfectionists looks at how industrial standardization developed, and how machine tolerances improved to the point where they are beyond the control of flesh and blood humans. In The Professor and the Madman he looks at how the Oxford English Dictionary was made. The third element in Winchester’s trifecta of interest is people, often odd personalities who played pivotal roles in the development of technical and intellectual advances, thus expanding and deepening human understanding of the world. I think what I’ve done is to get obscure figures from history and tell the stories like I’ve told you about Mister Penck and his maps, Mister Struve and his survey, Mister Radcliffe and his line, and turn them into what they truly are, which is heroic, forgotten figures from history….I just become fascinated by these characters. - from the Kinukinaya interviewThere are plenty of interesting sorts in Land. Maybe none of the folks noted here are quite so interesting as the institutionalized murderer in The Professor and the Madman, but they are still a colorful crew, and it is clear Winchester had fun writing about them. They include Cornelius Lely, who built the 20-mile-long Barrier Dam in The Netherlands, which turned the Zuider Zee into vast tracts of arable land, Gina Rinehart, the world’s largest private landholder, not someone who has contributed nearly so much to the store of human knowledge as she has to conservative politicians, and Friedrich Wilhelm Georg von Struve, who spent forty years measuring a meridian for the tsar of Russia. There are many more, of both the benign and dark variety. When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land. -- Desmond Tutu There are surprising connections made, such as the relationship between the invention of barbed wire and America’s appetite for beef. Or the link between the growth of commercial aviation and the development of World Aeronautical Charts, well maybe not so surprising, that. But that such things did not exist prior to people flying the friendly skies reminds us just how recent so much of the foundation of today’s world truly is. I suppose it also might not count as surprising, but John Maynard Keynes had an interesting solution to the problem of landed gentry, euthanasia. Winchester details many of the outrages that have been inflicted, in the name of seizing land, on indigenous people across the planet, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA figuring large in these. But there are also plenty of other people who have been expelled from their homes, livelihoods, and history by the forces of greed across the planet. These include immigrants to the USA whose land was stolen while they were illegally incarcerated, and farmers who were dispossessed by land-owners seeking to maximize the profitability of their holdings, via the Enclosure and Clearance laws passed in England and Scotland. Then there are the perennial turf battles, like those in Ireland and the Middle East. Gripes are, per usual with any Winchester book, minimal. He writes about the role, historical, current, and potential, that trusts have, had, and might have for the preservation of land from destructive exploitation. Yet, in doing so, there was mention of The Nature Conservancy. Their motto could be (it isn’t) We save land the old-fashioned way. We buy it. It has over a million members (yes, I am) and has protected about 120 million acres of land. It definitely merited a shoutout here. Another part of the book tells of the annihilation of bison from the American west. The critters are referred to as multi-ton. Like the mythical eight hundred pound gorilla which grows only to about 400 pounds at most, bison max out at roughly 2,000 pounds, or a single ton, which still leaves them as the largest land mammal in North America. Like any good geologist, or writer, Simon Winchester enjoys digging. And we are all the lucky recipients of the informational nuggets he unearths. He is a master story-teller, and if you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself at a party with him, or find a chance to see him speak publicly, just pull up a seat and listen. You won’t be sorry. So, I can tell from the looks on your faces that this one would be a perfect fit for you, particularly if you are planning to start a library soon. Do you think you’d like to make an offer on the book? There are other potential buyers stopping by this afternoon, and I would hate for you to miss out. It won’t stay on the shelves very long. Take my card and give me a ring when you make up your mind, ok. But I can assure you that, whether your preferences for land are LaLa, Never, Sugar, Holy, Promised, Wonder, Native, or Rover, when you check out Simon Winchester’s latest book, your will be a Land lover. We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1948) (view spoiler)[I could say that Winchester covered a lot of ground in this book, but really who would write such a thing? I suppose one might say that he planted a flag on his subject matter and claimed it for his own, and if you don’t like it, you can get the hell off his lawn. Not me. Nope. Nosiree. (hide spoiler)] Review posted – February 5, 2021 Publication date – January 19, 2021 =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages A nice overview of Winchester’s professional life can be found here Interviews -----Kinokuniya USA - Interview with Simon Winchester on 'Land' - video - 30:03 – by Raphael - This is wonderful. The interview is a lot like SW’s books, one fascinating story follows another follows another. -----RNZ - Simon Winchester: how land ownership shaped the modern world by Kim Hill – text extract plus audio interview - 48:24 -----The Book Club - Simon Winchester: Land - audio - 42:46 Songs/Music -----Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land -----The Lion King - This Land ----- LaLa Land - soundtrack Reviews of other Simon Winchester books we have read: -----2018 - The Perfectionists -----2015 - Pacific -----2010 - Atlantic -----2008 - The Man Who Loved China -----2005 - Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded -----2001 - The Map That Changed the World -----1998 - The Professor and the Madman Items of Interest – by Winchester -----From 2013 - Simon Winchester at TEDxEast re his book The Men Who United the States – There is an interesting morsel here about 11 minutes in on an important Jeffersonian decision having to do with land ownership -----American Scholar - Experience Everything Items of Interest ----- Citizen Simon: Author, journalist, OBE, sage of Sandisfield by Andrew D. Blechman - Posted on September 9, 2018 -----International Map of the World -----The Nature Conservancy An extra bit. I had intended to incorporate the following into the body of the review, but just felt off about that. Nevertheless I do hold with the notion expressed, so here it is, tucked away at the bottom: I was taken with a particular instance of the horrors that accompanied land grabs in the expanding USA, as having resonance with today, with Donald Trump as the embodiment of that carnage. Whereas the racist yahoos of the 19th century westward expansion delighted in slaughtering bison from a moving train, in order to deny the native residents a living and to make it easier to clear them from desired land, so Trump has spent his time in the limelight, and in power, blasting away at the things that are central to our culture, to our values, so that he could deny us our cultural and legal core, as he seized all he could grab for himself and those like him.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve Donoghue

    If you've read any Simon Winchester, you know what to expect in this terrific book: a natural storyteller's ease, a thousand great anecdotes, some very interesting, challenging insights, and maybe a corresponding lack of narrative through-line. Winchester is in great form here, scintillating and funny and wide-ranging in his examination of the million ways humans have obsessed over land in the last thousand years (and as an added bonus, the US hardcover from Harper is quite nice). My full review If you've read any Simon Winchester, you know what to expect in this terrific book: a natural storyteller's ease, a thousand great anecdotes, some very interesting, challenging insights, and maybe a corresponding lack of narrative through-line. Winchester is in great form here, scintillating and funny and wide-ranging in his examination of the million ways humans have obsessed over land in the last thousand years (and as an added bonus, the US hardcover from Harper is quite nice). My full review is here: https://www.thedailystar.net/book-rev...

  3. 4 out of 5

    James Bechtel

    Maybe a 3.5 stars. Not really sure I can give it four stars. Surprisingly, the book's thesis about the significance of land - the dispossession of indigenous land and the ownership of settler peoples - and the resulting divisions/conflicts around the world had flaws. There is an uneven quality to the chapters - some hits and misses. The layers of complexity of this topic can't be easily made simple. At times certain chapters have to be questioned about their too simplistic examination of the iss Maybe a 3.5 stars. Not really sure I can give it four stars. Surprisingly, the book's thesis about the significance of land - the dispossession of indigenous land and the ownership of settler peoples - and the resulting divisions/conflicts around the world had flaws. There is an uneven quality to the chapters - some hits and misses. The layers of complexity of this topic can't be easily made simple. At times certain chapters have to be questioned about their too simplistic examination of the issue. There is just too much he has tried to do in this one book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zeb Kantrowitz

    This book has two parts, the first part is geological and discusses the creation of land and the type of land and the beginning of man to harness it as opposed to just living off what exists. The biggest change to the relationship of man and land is when he began to settle in places and create agriculture which meant staying in one place, to plant and sow. As more people lived together, they began to go from groups to tribes to communities. Communities then began to compete for resources and to c This book has two parts, the first part is geological and discusses the creation of land and the type of land and the beginning of man to harness it as opposed to just living off what exists. The biggest change to the relationship of man and land is when he began to settle in places and create agriculture which meant staying in one place, to plant and sow. As more people lived together, they began to go from groups to tribes to communities. Communities then began to compete for resources and to conquer others to make their lives easier by exploiting those who were conquered. Little by little different groups began to take land as their gd given rights. Empires were created, and that's when the book changes to a geographic story. Empires began to conquer lands around it to control the output of those lands. The Egyptians would take over more and more land up the Nile Valley to enrich themselves and to enslave peoples to do their work and bidding. Rome took on the Carthaginian Empire to give them control of the Mediterranean Sea and all of the commerce that occurred in that area. Later they expanded into other area that had resources they wanted. This is how land was acquired and controlled. Over the centuries, religion became the primary reason for the controlling of land, as different groups fought to prove that they were gds given. First it was Christianity and the Pagans and then Christianity and Islam, later it was Christianity and Protestantism. As land was controlled by borders and became nations, they again fought over control of resources. In the sixteen hundreds Europe began to go out and begin to control other parts of the world, ending with the division of Africa in the late eighteenth century. World War I and II were fought over control of land as control of land became power and the proof of status as a World Power. After the war, ideology became the primary reason to battle over land for the now reduced resources. During this time, almost all world colonies were given their independence while the world divided by affiliation to the West (US & Europe) and East (Ussr). With the end of the Cold War, we entered a period of armed nationalism. This is the last section where Winchester discussed the current problems with control of land for groups over disputes related to religion and ethnicity, or political disagreements. Some places discussed are the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and South Asia. It's a well written and research history of why many parts of the world are as they are today.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    Important read! Enjoyed it, and learned a lot about land ownership and the unnecessary draw people have to own land. Started out strong, but got a little long-winded. 2.9/5

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christopher P. Steele

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As a geographer, I was looking forward to Winchester's popular book on land. I'm disappointed. His treatment of the theft of land from Indigenous peoples is maddening. An enormous missed opportunity, particularly in the connect of the current global moment. Regardless of the moment, Winchester is condescending on the topic of Indigenous lands. So, that's my main critical point. In general I find his style of rattling off tales, trivia, and fun facts to be frustrating. I can't discern who is his As a geographer, I was looking forward to Winchester's popular book on land. I'm disappointed. His treatment of the theft of land from Indigenous peoples is maddening. An enormous missed opportunity, particularly in the connect of the current global moment. Regardless of the moment, Winchester is condescending on the topic of Indigenous lands. So, that's my main critical point. In general I find his style of rattling off tales, trivia, and fun facts to be frustrating. I can't discern who is his intended audience for this book. His style and tone are enjoyable, but apart from a few tidbits, I didn't really learn much. Perhaps my expectation is colored by a comparison to academic literature, but this book didn't do it for me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    S.

    3.5, and maybe a Simon Windhester 3.5 is a 4.0 from lesser authors. but, as third most popular review notes there are hits and misses in the various chapters. Winchester, the consummate historian of broad topics, wrote at least 5 4* star books Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries o 3.5, and maybe a Simon Windhester 3.5 is a 4.0 from lesser authors. but, as third most popular review notes there are hits and misses in the various chapters. Winchester, the consummate historian of broad topics, wrote at least 5 4* star books Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World and Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles-- read these books first if you're interested in grand-scope history. is Winchester a touch leftist? or am I just getting older ?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Miguette

    Good. 3.5, But it felt like it was hurried off to the editor- not that it was badly written, but that it could have gone on to be two or three times as long and I feel that given the chance Winchester would have at least could have. Pity. Missed opportunity

  9. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Living with the land Land has been much on my mind lately, as several months ago I started making my way through D. W. Meinig's four-volume and highly recommended geographic history of America, and just before I picked up Winchester's latest at my local library buying a new house and selling my existing home. While my primary interest was in the built property, not on the "real" estate, the land underneath, the property's worth and value is inseparable from the location of the land. Review title: Living with the land Land has been much on my mind lately, as several months ago I started making my way through D. W. Meinig's four-volume and highly recommended geographic history of America, and just before I picked up Winchester's latest at my local library buying a new house and selling my existing home. While my primary interest was in the built property, not on the "real" estate, the land underneath, the property's worth and value is inseparable from the location of the land. Land ownership is central to the American Dream. Winchester, a veteran popular historian whose topics often touch on place and geography, turns his thoughts to the history of man's relationship to land. It hasn't always been that of the assumption, expectation, desire for, and desirability of private ownership, and it hasn't always been a smooth relationship. A transplanted English man and naturalized American citizen, Winchester spends a good bit of his paper on documenting Native American relationships to land and their sad genocidal removal from the land by European immigrants who had a very different view of man's proper relationship to land that converted a common good into private real estate. He also documents the similarities of the American history to other aboriginal encounters with imperial peoples (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Hawaii, Russia, and much of the African continent). He is writing popular narrative history here, so there is no footnoting or rigorous approach to data or theoretical analysis, and given the broad scope of his topic his writing often has to be generalized to the level of nonfiction essay. While his facts and writing are sound and believable, his tone often veers toward romanticism of the distant past and criticisms of the present that overlook the real economic, political, moral, and cultural value of the dominant modern worldviews of private property. Sections of the book are devoted to borders between national populations where antipathies have hardened to hatred, patterns of acquisition which have lead to extreme concentration of private land ownership, efforts to improve stewardship of the land, and recent movements toward resolving imperial land expropriation by devolving ownership to original inhabitants or creating community ownership groups. These last movements are fraught with political battles over taxation, reparations, and failures of communal ownership experiments (offset by some few small examples Winchester documents of recent successes in Scotland and slow steps toward full recovery of Maori land ownership in New Zealand). Winchester returns to his native United Kingdom for a thumbnail history of the dual "Tragedies of Improvement" (p. 171-193) in England and Scotland. The Enclosure movement to fence off former common shared ground (for grazing, hunting, tilling, and hunting) into private plots owned by the wealthy or noble closed off the possibility of livelihood and nourishment for the now disenfranchised, and the Clearance movement to forceably remove tenant farmers from large estates in favor of expected higher profits from sheep grazing on the same land resulted in starvation, homelessness, and increased emigration to the "new worlds" of America, Canada, and Australia for those who could afford the trip or were willing to indenture themselves to pay for it. That these new immigrants often bought or homesteaded land stolen from the original native communities who owned or used it is an irony sadly noted by Winchester. Like all of Winchester's many (30-plus other titles listed at the front of this one) popular histories, this is enjoyable and quick reading, certainly not a classic. His ability as a writer enables him to tell a story well, and while I might wish for more rigorous analysis he does at least provide a bibliography for further reading. My review title is the name of a Disney World Epcot attraction about ways to use land more efficiently to produce larger and healthier yields more sustainably. The attraction and its name are a short synopsis of Winchester's theme. May we all become better at living with the land.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Simon Winchester has a way of looking at the biggest ideas and places and manages to present small bites for the readers consumption that just collects together into a ginormous meal. Admittedly, these small bites are, basically, collections of essay/chapters about various topics that Winchester feels gives an overall picture of what he is attempting to convey. In his latest book, he tackles "land." From the geological formation of the solid ground beneath our feet to the wandering hominids to e Simon Winchester has a way of looking at the biggest ideas and places and manages to present small bites for the readers consumption that just collects together into a ginormous meal. Admittedly, these small bites are, basically, collections of essay/chapters about various topics that Winchester feels gives an overall picture of what he is attempting to convey. In his latest book, he tackles "land." From the geological formation of the solid ground beneath our feet to the wandering hominids to early agricultural techniques which had one farmer furrowing his plot one direction while his neighbor furrowed his another and where they met became the first borders. Off to measuring the size of the planet and projecting the amount of land. Then to maps and borders - some old, some natural barriers, some arbitrarily created - like between India and Pakistan which was decided over seven days by someone who was completely unfamiliar with the people and territory and caused a massive crisis in 1947. The mental hopscotch of enclaves - again India and Pakistan which are working on ridding each other of the tiny foreign bodies withing their borders. The UK Ordinance Survey maps that are still valued by Brits. Making land - usually volcanic when created naturally or collections of sand and/or silt from water flows. Or then there is man-made land which can be due to rubble dumped and built upon (New York City and San Francisco) or when the Netherlands reclaimed acres from the Zuiderzee and made a new province. Of course, the theft of American Indian land and the grab of white settlers. British gentry and landholding. British common use land to enclosures (for better utilization usually determined to be 'badly overused' by individuals grazing their animals there instead of on private lands). The clearances of poor crofts in Scotland for the raising of sheep which led to their migration to Manitoba to survive. The personal landowners of Australia, United States, and Canada that possess huge amounts of land in various positive and negative spotlights. The idea of trespass to barbed wire to countries where trespass is an unknown concept and allows access as long as the travelers are respectful and responsible. The DMZ between the Koreas where nature has reclaimed the area and re-wilding (to various levels) of estates. The wisdom of aboriginal people especially brought to the forefront when dealing with fires and dry underbrush before it can be fuel for conflagrations like that experienced by Australia. Cities and city parks and encircling highways and contaminated lands. Ireland and its northern neighbor which shared the island. Palestine and Israel which are bitter rivals to this day and the Ukrainian genocide by Stalin. The lands worked and farmed by Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans in the western United States which was taken from them when they were caged to internment camps. Maori and Aotearoa New Zealand. The island of Ulva now owned by the community living there as well as the Scots island of Eigg which preceded it. The end of European colonialism in Africa. The discovery of Yosemite and the preservation of nature's beauty which was just another reminder of the white brutality towards the resident Indians. Land trusts - land owned by trust while housing can be built, improvements made by the occupants but the land can never be sold. And finally, climate change and the drowning of coastal land. A lot of area covered both in number of topics and across the world itself. Tremendous amount of information and with each chapter being - not necessarily dedicated to each topic since he would include other similar information and examples - basically complete in itself, the reader could easily have set the book aside to consider what he had relayed and do any personal investigation without losing their place. Winchester ends with a glossary of land measurement terms from acre to yoking as well as a bibliography. I will admit that an error that crept in early on remained in the back of my mind while reading this latest work by Winchester for me. An editor or the author himself should have caught it. And no, I'm not going to relay what it was, you have to find it yourself. 2021-066

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    Winchester has written over 30 nonfiction books. Most of them are big books on big topics like the Pacific Ocean or Korea or Earthquakes. He is very good at weaving together a group of interesting stories and people into a book. This one is about land, or actually about mankind's relationship with land. This is about how land has been measured, owned and used by man. It is not really about geology or the formation of the earth. He starts with his experience buying a piece of land in upstate New Y Winchester has written over 30 nonfiction books. Most of them are big books on big topics like the Pacific Ocean or Korea or Earthquakes. He is very good at weaving together a group of interesting stories and people into a book. This one is about land, or actually about mankind's relationship with land. This is about how land has been measured, owned and used by man. It is not really about geology or the formation of the earth. He starts with his experience buying a piece of land in upstate New York. He traces the ownership of that plot back to when it was not owned in the way Europeans owned land. The European theft of land from non-Europeans, not just Native Americans, is one of the themes of the book. Winchester has interesting chapters on the attempts to map the modern world. Starting in 1816 the Russians meticulously surveyed and measured a meridian line through ten countries from Norway to the Ukrainian shore of the Black Sea. It took 40 years. The Struve Geodic Arc was named after Friedrich Struve, the Russian cartographer who conceived of the project. It became the base line for accurately mapping Europe. The line was about 40 million meters long. Satellite measurement shows that they were about 130 meters off. The book is full of interesting stories. The chapter on the Middle East land battles between Arabs and Israel is pretty well plowed ground but most of these stories where either new to me or had new details. Winchester is a pro at this kind of book. He weaves his personal experiences and opinions lightly into the book. It feels like a particular person is telling the story but it never devolves into a memoir. He loves odd words. He revels in exotic landscape terminology. He describes a friend who "would come up from the Bronx on autumn weekends in the 1970s and 1080s, to chase down deer and , after GRALLOCHING them and preserving the antlers, lug the venison in coolers back to his friends.." "Gralloching" = gutting. Or, he explains that the St. Lawrence River border between Canada and the U.S. "runs along what is an actual physical barrier, with the centerline drawn in mid-river above the THALWEG, the deepest point of the stream." The most shocking story is the explanation for why the highway around Denver, the Route 128 of Denver, has a large gap. The gap is the area where the plant which build the plutonium cores for nuclear bombs was located. The plant leaked. After 40 years of clean up, it is still too dangerous to do the excavation necessary for a major highway, so Denver traffic is a mess. One quibble. The book could have used more maps. I would have liked a map of the New York and Northwest Oblongs, for example.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Hulser

    Everything Simon Winchester writes is wonderful, he engages deeply with subjects that matter, even as he pens jaunty narratives, sprinkled with memorable historical and contemporary figures. His latest book explores the theory and practice of owning land. The topic resonantes with an enormous number of issues that bedevil human history: the clash of haves and have-nots, the rape of nature, the power of ownership, the legal structures that underpin the very human arrangements for occupying and us Everything Simon Winchester writes is wonderful, he engages deeply with subjects that matter, even as he pens jaunty narratives, sprinkled with memorable historical and contemporary figures. His latest book explores the theory and practice of owning land. The topic resonantes with an enormous number of issues that bedevil human history: the clash of haves and have-nots, the rape of nature, the power of ownership, the legal structures that underpin the very human arrangements for occupying and using land. And, of course, it is a marvelous and smart exposition of the roots of the urban/rural split, made even more engrossing by its wide range of examples drawn from the US, Scotland, India, the Marshall Islands and many more. The nefarious impacts of land policies and the tragedy of the commons are traced in well-chosen case studies. Winchester is no naif: he is aware that the injustices of private property might prove preferable to the ruin of spaces held in common, that often succumb to the recklessness that comes with competition to grab as much as one can. Weaponized concepts of real estate and alienable land helped strip vast lands from Native Americans. He traces migration to patterns of privatization, clearance in Scotland, enclosure in England, just plain dispossession and theft in North America, and feudal hierarchies intertwined with colonial legacies in India. Made land as a response to scarcity from Battery Park to Krakatoa. Winchester's stories of the artificial boundaries as spawning grounds of eternal disputes are particularly illuminating in his comparative perspective, where "tribal" lines in colonial Africa, the infamous partition of India/Pakistan and the eternal warfare in Israel/Palestine function as case studies in lasting damage. And throughout the author pays attention to details from the deployment of the compass and the surveyors rod and chain, down to the patent on barbed wire, the technological innovation that arguably created the American West. Even the notion of the bundle of rights known as property that extends to infinity in the sky becomes problematic in the age of air travel and drone flying.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Antonia Malchik

    I've long been a Winchester fan and was looking forward to this book, but its flaws are too gaping to overlook. While his writing about Indigenous people and issues is clearly meant to be sympathetic, it can most generously be described as condescending and colonial. The number of times Indigenous people are described as standing by, "bewildered," as their land is stolen is ... bewildering, and there are far too many characterizations that all but say "noble savage." I don't know how much of thi I've long been a Winchester fan and was looking forward to this book, but its flaws are too gaping to overlook. While his writing about Indigenous people and issues is clearly meant to be sympathetic, it can most generously be described as condescending and colonial. The number of times Indigenous people are described as standing by, "bewildered," as their land is stolen is ... bewildering, and there are far too many characterizations that all but say "noble savage." I don't know how much of this language made it through the editing process, and there is almost no case where Winchester seems to have made attempts to consult Indigenous people themselves, or even their own historical accounts. Aside from that, it leaves a great deal of scholarship on land ownership by the wayside, seeming to favor instead detailed descriptions of things like surveying to discovering the size of Earth. There is nothing wrong with surveying stories -- and it's something Winchester excels at -- but this was meant to be a book about land ownership, not about land measurement. While I enjoyed some of his writing and stories, Andro Linklater's "Owning the Earth" remains a far better and more thoughtful book on this subject, not to mention Henry George's 1879 "Progress & Poverty," which delves deeply into the injustices of land ownership; and I wish Winchester would have actually spoken with Indigenous people instead of trying to write their histories through a sympathetic but entirely colonial lens.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Glogoff

    Tucson hosts one of the largest book and author events in the country each spring. Like last year's, 2021's will be virtual. If this interests you, check out http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/ where you'll find the dates and authors. I try to read two or three of visiting authors' books before the event and this year started with Simon Winchester's "Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World." In the early 2000s, I read "The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth o Tucson hosts one of the largest book and author events in the country each spring. Like last year's, 2021's will be virtual. If this interests you, check out http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/ where you'll find the dates and authors. I try to read two or three of visiting authors' books before the event and this year started with Simon Winchester's "Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World." In the early 2000s, I read "The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology," "The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary" (published in the US as "The Professor and the Madman"), and "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded." All excellent and today I wonder why the gap between then and now in reading Winchester's works. "Land" is another excellent read, which I enjoyed from the first page to the last. The Washington Post's review sums it up better than I ever could: "'Land' is more than a travelogue or popular history or geographic exploration — it is a political work, a chronicle of human efforts to possess, restrict, exploit and improve our lands, all while, ideally, not destroying them. Above all, it’s a critique of the very notion of land ownership, of 'the mystery of why any man could think of himself as actually owning a piece of what, in essence, eternally belongs to Nature.'"

  15. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    This latest book by Simon Winchester attempts to cover a broad subject, perhaps too broad, for human’s relationship with land. While there are many facts and tidbits gleaned in this book, it is not long enough to cover the world entirely. Huge parts of land are missing, notably South America, most islands, much of Asia and Europe. He focuses instead on points here and there, he narrows in and those parts I thoroughly enjoyed. One that struck me particularly is with the Netherlands, creating new This latest book by Simon Winchester attempts to cover a broad subject, perhaps too broad, for human’s relationship with land. While there are many facts and tidbits gleaned in this book, it is not long enough to cover the world entirely. Huge parts of land are missing, notably South America, most islands, much of Asia and Europe. He focuses instead on points here and there, he narrows in and those parts I thoroughly enjoyed. One that struck me particularly is with the Netherlands, creating new land and their building of new land in the 1980s, by taking it away from the North Sea away, creating a new province of Flevoland. I found the book was well organized, yet each section could have more breath. Also, once could argue there was no rhyme or reason to why certain points on the map were covered and other areas skipped. When confronted with native people’s being disposed of their land, and the attempts to recover it, well definitely Winchester could have written more, and perhaps with more compassion. He certainly seems to take affront at how much land is owned by so few in Britain, and rightly so. Don’t expect the book to be through, but there is much here that can have you asking, just how much land does one need? Thanks to Harper and NetGalley for an uncorrected electronic advance review copy of this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Randall Russell

    While I've enjoyed some of Simon Winchester's other books, I have to say I didn't find this one particularly enjoyable. To me, this book seemed to wander all over the place, and while some of the vignettes were quite interesting, there really didn't seem to be a theme or themes that tied them together, other than they were perhaps loosely about the idea of land. These vignettes ranged from the author's ownership of some land in New England, to communal land ownership, to the Yosemite Valley, to While I've enjoyed some of Simon Winchester's other books, I have to say I didn't find this one particularly enjoyable. To me, this book seemed to wander all over the place, and while some of the vignettes were quite interesting, there really didn't seem to be a theme or themes that tied them together, other than they were perhaps loosely about the idea of land. These vignettes ranged from the author's ownership of some land in New England, to communal land ownership, to the Yosemite Valley, to New Zealand and New Guinea, to Japanese concentration camps during WWII, to name just a few examples. Since they were only very loosely connected to each other, and often not very connected to the idea of land or the ownership of land, I found the overall effect to be frustrating. I also feel like the author never really came to grips with what I thought should be a central theme - just why are people often so obsessed with the idea of possessing land? So overall, I wouldn't particularly recommend this book. There are definitely other Simon Winchester books that I found much more interesting - The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World and Krakatoa being some examples.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    A good book, providing a thorough understanding of human ownership of land and how this has influenced our history. The author, the former Geologist turned prolific author Simon Winchester, is one of my favorites. He brings his usual wit and subtlety to this work, along with his ability to call out humans for our very human behaviors. The book covers the full range of topics associated with land ownership, to include the history, original rights, usage, legal considerations, the buying and selli A good book, providing a thorough understanding of human ownership of land and how this has influenced our history. The author, the former Geologist turned prolific author Simon Winchester, is one of my favorites. He brings his usual wit and subtlety to this work, along with his ability to call out humans for our very human behaviors. The book covers the full range of topics associated with land ownership, to include the history, original rights, usage, legal considerations, the buying and selling process, conflicts, and the future. It is fast paced and wide ranging, but detailed, as any fan of Winchester is familiar with. I especially liked the section on the Dutch land reclaiming efforts, covering both their technical aspects and the legal hurdles that have to be overcome. I did think the book’s topic was a bit too broad, or at least that it lacked the pointed focus of Winchester’s other books. But, it was still fascinating and well worth the read. A great book for anyone who enjoys Simon Winchester’s unique writing style and information flow. Highly recommended for those wanting to better understand land ownership with a holistic perspective.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    "Land" is the story of people's relationship with and to the land, across both time and the globe with the big question being: "what does it mean to "own" the land?" Winchester examines how European invaders have destroyed both the land and the people who originally inhabited it wherever they went. He informs us of the few mega-rich who own tremendous amounts of land. The Highland Clearances and today's radical Scottish attempts to make land owned by the communities instead of individuals. The S "Land" is the story of people's relationship with and to the land, across both time and the globe with the big question being: "what does it mean to "own" the land?" Winchester examines how European invaders have destroyed both the land and the people who originally inhabited it wherever they went. He informs us of the few mega-rich who own tremendous amounts of land. The Highland Clearances and today's radical Scottish attempts to make land owned by the communities instead of individuals. The Soviet Union's genocide in Ukraine over land and Communist farming methods. Then wraps it all up by reminding the reader that, despite what they might think, land is not forever. It changes, it grows, and during these times of global warming, it drowns. All in all, a depressing book that wasn't as interesting or as informative as I had anticipated, and one where I skimmed a lot because Winchester seemed to be trying to fit ten or more examples into any given sentence where two or three would do. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    Starting with the history of the land he purchased in Massachusetts, Winchester relates in chatty, informal detail about land. Each chapter used an anecdote (or several) to illustrate something about land: how the earth makes new land, how humans acquire land, how humans steal land, how humans improve land, how humans return previously stolen land, how humans through climate change are destroying the land - and more. Winchester has his chatty, storyteller prose that makes you feel as if you are Starting with the history of the land he purchased in Massachusetts, Winchester relates in chatty, informal detail about land. Each chapter used an anecdote (or several) to illustrate something about land: how the earth makes new land, how humans acquire land, how humans steal land, how humans improve land, how humans return previously stolen land, how humans through climate change are destroying the land - and more. Winchester has his chatty, storyteller prose that makes you feel as if you are sitting across from him in a coffee shop (although please, not Starbucks) and he’s telling you story after story with using land as a connective theme. He has some truly terrible stories to tell too: the Ukrainian famine, the Japanese American internment camps, colonization. He ends on climate change - how could he not. But also, some inspiring stories too - land stories about the Maori of New Zealand or the collective land ownerships in Scotland or trusts in the USA. Lots of trivia here - but certainly not a trivial subject.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan Tunis

    I'll admit it took me a little while to warm up to this book. I'm SO not a history buff. But there's SO much more than history within these pages. And let's face it, some of the history is really interesting. Perhaps what I liked best was the breadth and depth of what Winchester covered--in subject, in geography--the man covered a lot of territory. (Appropriate for a book called Land, LOL.). To me, this sort of broad approach to a subject speaks to the author's creativity and imagination. Yes, ev I'll admit it took me a little while to warm up to this book. I'm SO not a history buff. But there's SO much more than history within these pages. And let's face it, some of the history is really interesting. Perhaps what I liked best was the breadth and depth of what Winchester covered--in subject, in geography--the man covered a lot of territory. (Appropriate for a book called Land, LOL.). To me, this sort of broad approach to a subject speaks to the author's creativity and imagination. Yes, even for non-fiction. He's looking at a narrow subject from many angles. Cartography, manifest destiny, sovereignty, geography, the Palestinian conflict, ecology, wealth equality, and on and on. So, yes, it took a little time to win me over, but eventually Mr. Winchester did. He had time, it's a rather long book, but I read every word. And if you can read Land without learning something, or finding something of interest--well, you simply aren't trying hard enough.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Baird

    Always entertained by Simon Winchester and his writings. So many inc. Krakatoa, The Professor and the Madman, Pacific RIsing, The Meaning of Everything, The Perfectionists, Pacific, Atlantic, A Crqck in the edge of the World and now Land, The Ownership of Everywhere. The book provided great insight of land ownership in specific parts of the world, inc. the removal of the Native American Population, and the Japanese incarceration of American Citizens in WWII. Bellvue Washington was especially dis Always entertained by Simon Winchester and his writings. So many inc. Krakatoa, The Professor and the Madman, Pacific RIsing, The Meaning of Everything, The Perfectionists, Pacific, Atlantic, A Crqck in the edge of the World and now Land, The Ownership of Everywhere. The book provided great insight of land ownership in specific parts of the world, inc. the removal of the Native American Population, and the Japanese incarceration of American Citizens in WWII. Bellvue Washington was especially disheartening in what our Government can do with law on their side. Sad but true. Uplifting stories of the Maori and New Zealanders collaboration of land ownership and the ending with a 3*6 ft space reserved for its owner (grave) Great, but not his best. I will be looking for more Simon and thanks for becoming an American landowner.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Hillcoat

    This book is quite patchy. There are some interesting chapters outlining various different approaches to land ownership, including the no private ownership where land is shared collectively. The dominant mode of operation seems to be taking the land from the original inhabitants and dividing it up amongst the new settlers or cronies of the rulers. The book overall represents a pretty sad history of the same old exploitative processes happening again and again. Thankfully there are some chapters This book is quite patchy. There are some interesting chapters outlining various different approaches to land ownership, including the no private ownership where land is shared collectively. The dominant mode of operation seems to be taking the land from the original inhabitants and dividing it up amongst the new settlers or cronies of the rulers. The book overall represents a pretty sad history of the same old exploitative processes happening again and again. Thankfully there are some chapters that examine other more benign ways of approaching land ownership. The problem with the book is that it delves into topics about land in a piecemeal way so that the argument being built gets lost in the meandering detail. Some chapters I wondered what the author was trying to achieve. In the end, it felt like he was attempting to tackle too much.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Although sometimes difficult to read because of the minutia, Simon Winchester – “Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles,” “The River at the Center of the World,” “The Man Who Loved China” – is still one of my favorites. Once again, he’s written another 5-star gem. Although the topic might sound dry, Winchester examines in depth how we determine where the land lies, how we acquire it, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and, finally, who we can, and on occasion do, come to share Although sometimes difficult to read because of the minutia, Simon Winchester – “Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles,” “The River at the Center of the World,” “The Man Who Loved China” – is still one of my favorites. Once again, he’s written another 5-star gem. Although the topic might sound dry, Winchester examines in depth how we determine where the land lies, how we acquire it, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and, finally, who we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. He has excellent sections on the history of North America, Palestine, the evening gate-closing ceremony at Wagah – the only crossing-point between India and Pakistan – and a host of other seldom thought about topics that will perk your interest. If you like Winchester, this one will become another favorite.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    When Simon Winchester purchased land in New York's forested country, he got to wondering what it is about land that causes people to want to own it. Raised and educated in England, he brings a different perspective to his globe-trotting research. He also delves back in time to see how things were once done and how our present attitudes were formed. Part history of the world, part environmental evangelicalism, his book is thoughtful and current. Although at times a bit tedious in its details, Win When Simon Winchester purchased land in New York's forested country, he got to wondering what it is about land that causes people to want to own it. Raised and educated in England, he brings a different perspective to his globe-trotting research. He also delves back in time to see how things were once done and how our present attitudes were formed. Part history of the world, part environmental evangelicalism, his book is thoughtful and current. Although at times a bit tedious in its details, Winchester never fails to address his points and lead the reader through his logic. It was an interesting read for its worldwide approach to land ownership, but I had to wonder what political ideals underpinned his arguments. I'm glad I read it but will probably not rush out and get any other titles by this author.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andy Kabanoff

    An excellent historian's view on land from prehistory through to the future, told in a very engaging way. Personal accounts, recounts of historical events with snippits of interesting information from thousands of sources embedded within. Land enclosed, taken, destroyed and in a few cases regenerated and even created. The theft of land from indigenous occupants in the Americas, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, land taken from others in Scotland and the Ukraine, the devastating results of the p An excellent historian's view on land from prehistory through to the future, told in a very engaging way. Personal accounts, recounts of historical events with snippits of interesting information from thousands of sources embedded within. Land enclosed, taken, destroyed and in a few cases regenerated and even created. The theft of land from indigenous occupants in the Americas, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, land taken from others in Scotland and the Ukraine, the devastating results of the partition of India, and so on and on. Much of this I knew to some extent but much was quite new, and to have it packaged together in this way was quite a revelation. Winchester doesn't go soft on the perpetrators of land theft, and paints a worrying picture of a world where land – once thought to be a constant commodity - is being lost.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an electric ARC in exchange for an honest review. In his latest Land: The Ownership of Everywhere, Simon Winchester writes of the draw and desire that humans have to own, control and make worth of the solid surface under our feet. Starting with his own purchase of acreage in New York State, Winchester shows how our Continent's came be, how the came to be owned and how they came to be divided, with valued added. What is the feeling tha Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an electric ARC in exchange for an honest review. In his latest Land: The Ownership of Everywhere, Simon Winchester writes of the draw and desire that humans have to own, control and make worth of the solid surface under our feet. Starting with his own purchase of acreage in New York State, Winchester shows how our Continent's came be, how the came to be owned and how they came to be divided, with valued added. What is the feeling that comes of owning land, and how can the same land fluctuate in price from valuable to worthless in a short period of time. As with all of Winchester us books the research shows throughout, but never loses a sense of yes I am as amazed as you are, conversational style.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    3.9 stars. This book reminded me an awful lot like a book I read not long ago, The Republic of Nature by Mark Fiege. Fiege’s book’s purpose was to intertwine the environment with history by taking events we know of and putting them into perspective by adding an environmental science sort of view. It was a great read, I liked it, it combined my interests, and yet the stories were all over the place and very loosely connected. That’s what this book felt like to me. I enjoyed learning about the his 3.9 stars. This book reminded me an awful lot like a book I read not long ago, The Republic of Nature by Mark Fiege. Fiege’s book’s purpose was to intertwine the environment with history by taking events we know of and putting them into perspective by adding an environmental science sort of view. It was a great read, I liked it, it combined my interests, and yet the stories were all over the place and very loosely connected. That’s what this book felt like to me. I enjoyed learning about the history of how we view land, especially the parts discussing how the first world map’s came to be. But the book soon turn into many little stories of extremely little connection, not even the subsections of the book having a great link. But, I liked the topic and learned much valuable information just like with Fiege’s book. I also appreciated how there was data from as recent as 2020 and references to the pandemic, I never find that new of information in a whole printed book! At the end of the day it’s a good book in which to learn from and I’m excited to venture into Winchester’s other books now too. But the overall structure could definitely use improvement.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Denise Newton

    https://denisenewtonwrites.com/?p=2478 Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World Simon Winchester Land is an engrossing and thought provoking read. Readers who enjoy learning about history, geography, maps, as well as the contradictions of human behaviour, will enjoy the mix of anecdote and analysis with which Winchester packs a lot of information into a very readable package. https://denisenewtonwrites.com/?p=2478 Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World Simon Winchester Land is an engrossing and thought provoking read. Readers who enjoy learning about history, geography, maps, as well as the contradictions of human behaviour, will enjoy the mix of anecdote and analysis with which Winchester packs a lot of information into a very readable package.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Thom

    Coming off of Mr. Winchester's excellent book on Krakatoa this was a disappointment on few different levels. First I really got a "naive noble savage" vibe when talking about the native folks of Asia, Africa, Australia and America. Second compared to Krakatoa, this was a very wandering book with a unclear structure, almost more like some antidotes strung together. Towards the end I really had to muscle through the book. Third while content to liberally chastise the white British folks for all thei Coming off of Mr. Winchester's excellent book on Krakatoa this was a disappointment on few different levels. First I really got a "naive noble savage" vibe when talking about the native folks of Asia, Africa, Australia and America. Second compared to Krakatoa, this was a very wandering book with a unclear structure, almost more like some antidotes strung together. Towards the end I really had to muscle through the book. Third while content to liberally chastise the white British folks for all their various wrongs , he very quickly noped out of the British stealing Irish land, I guess they don't qualify as "noble savages"

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    Winchester takes an enjoyable and highly readable deep dive into the concept of “land”. Individual ownership of land appears to be a Western European, even British, innovation. Most of the world shared and venerated the land but how unproductive is that? Winchester looks at land around the world and over time covering such topics as conservation easements, disappearing land due to climate change, and many more. He ends the book with an attempt to answer how much land does a person need by quotin Winchester takes an enjoyable and highly readable deep dive into the concept of “land”. Individual ownership of land appears to be a Western European, even British, innovation. Most of the world shared and venerated the land but how unproductive is that? Winchester looks at land around the world and over time covering such topics as conservation easements, disappearing land due to climate change, and many more. He ends the book with an attempt to answer how much land does a person need by quoting a story by Tolstoy. Poignant and probably just right.

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