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Great Plains

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  2,016 Ratings  ·  170 Reviews
With his unique blend of intrepidity, tongue-in-cheek, and wide-eyed wonder, Ian Frazier captures the essence of the Great Plains, driving 25,000 miles up and down and across this section of the country which most travelers fly over.
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published June 1st 1989 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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“I fear for the Great Plains because many think they are boring.”

p. 91

I'll probably like this book more than you. I salivated over the possibilities of Great Plains after reading the author's Travels in Siberia. I went in with high hopes but acknowledge now that twenty-one years lapsed between this book and the Russian one, and Great Plains, as great as it is, reads, and was, the work of a younger and more self-conscious man. Frazier tries to sound cool and detached and drifter-y, sleeping in h
Rex Fuller
Jul 11, 2013 Rex Fuller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was delightful. I am from the Plains. Forget my irritation over learning so much about them from someone born east of Chicago, living in New Jersey, and working in New York City. He well-earned his spurs by shedding the East Coast bias, criss-crossing the Plains by car many times over the years, and loving them for what they are. Some weaknesses in his knowledge base (presumably from being an outsider) show through. For example, he mistakes the Eastern boundary of the Plains as about the 10 ...more
May 19, 2012 Ronald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Page 214: "Now, when I have trouble getting to sleep, I sometimes imagine that my bed is on the back of a flatbed pickup truck driving across the Great Plains. I ignore the shouts on the sidewalk and the bass vibnrations from the reggae club across the street. The back of this truck has sides but no top. I can see the stars. The air is cool. The truck will go nonstop for nine hours through the night. At first the road is as straight as a laser--State Highway 8, in North Dakota say--where nothing ...more
Apr 21, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Great Plains is a cross between Kathleen Norris' "Dakota" and William Least Heat Moon's "Blue Highways." It's a road book about the high plains -- that semi-arid, often treeless region covering 10 states lying between the Rockies and the Mid-West. Rather than a day-by-day log of a single journey, it is an account of many trips, as its author criss-crosses the terrain, jumping from place to place and from one historical period to another. When you are done, you have a sense of a vast land and a g ...more
Aug 11, 2012 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I should probably add a 'shelf' to my profile on here called 'Great Plains.' There's been quite a bit of Stegner going on over here, and now this. I think it feeds some sort of nostalgia...for a place I've never actually lived. I'm a city boy and can't claim the tiniest bit of even ironrange cred let alone plains cred (I was disappointed to find out from this book that Minnesota isn't even officially included in the enormous region known as the Great Plains. Too many lakes to qualify). But when ...more
This was a breezy, sweeping crash course on America's Great Plains and much of the West; equal parts travelogue and history with a vividly conveyed sense of place, spiced with historical tidbits and humorously imparted facts of the weird. It's kind of like a bunch of digestible NPR commentaries strung together. Frazier does it with ease, and not in any particular order -- somehow running the gamut from Sitting Bull and Bonnie & Clyde to Lawrence Welk; from arrowheads to barbed wire; from Men ...more
Jun 13, 2010 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've lost count of how many times I've read this book, but I just read it in preparation for a trip to the Great Plains. And it's still one of my favorite books. Frazier's not a stylist or a cloying writer who uses irony to skewer everything; he's just a good writer with a sense of humor, a sense of wonder, and a sense of adventure. The book is history at its most enthusiastic: sincere, brimming with life, and appreciative of the chance encounters that define and enliven travel. Most importantly ...more
Jul 10, 2014 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this in the history section of a great used bookstore in Chicago, Myopic Books, and I thought it was very fortuitous because I remember wanting to read more Frazier after “Travels in Siberia,” and also a book about the plains seems like an appropriate buy on a Chicago trip.
I really liked it. You know how sometimes you want to just chuck it all and move to Montana and live in a cabin and drive around the plains and write a book about the beating heart of America? Well, Frazier already di
Sep 29, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I like best about this book was seeing Ian Frazier fall in love with the Great Plains. He was already in love with the Sioux Indians and with Crazy Horse, in particular. His discussion of the last days of Crazy Horse is sympathetic and detailed in a way I have never seen in other books. Those sections alone make the book worth reading.

But, in a softer way, Frazier falls in love with the plains: with the weather, with the small towns, with the abandoned houses, abandoned farms, abandoned to
Read the STOP SMILING interview with author Ian Frazier

Of No Fixed Accord
By Nathan Kosub

(This interview originally appeared in STOP SMILING The Documentary Issue)

Ian Frazier is a staff writer at the New Yorker, where he began his career over 30 years ago. In April 2005, he revisited the legacies of Baghdad's historical invaders. ?It seems that so much of the foolish and horrible things that people do come from being adrift in the world,? Frazier told me. Against that, a book is ?an efficient way
Elizabeth K.
Feb 17, 2010 Elizabeth K. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elizabeth by: I saw Melissa P. mentioned it, and I usually like Ian Frazier.
Shelves: 2010-new-reads
I picked this up at the library after Melissa had mentioned it. I like the other things I've read by Ian Frazier, in large part because I'm generally a sucker for ruminations on American identity issues.

This one is focused on the Great Plains, obviously. Weirdly, I didn't know when it was published, but by the first 1/3 through, I was thinking to myself that it sounds, in my head, very 80s. It was 89, as it happens. I'm still not clear on what made it so obviously 80s to me.

Frazier is a New York
This is heartbreakingly witty, earthy, funny, and expansive. If you have ever yearned for North Dakota, this is your unrequited love story. I read this on the heels of Nathaniel Philbrick's Last Stand, and they were great companions. I would read this kind of book every day for the rest of my life: the perfect mix of history, natural history, incisive commentary, squirrelly off-beat locals, missile silos, Lewis and Clark, humor, and an expansive landscape that captures the imagination.

My favorit
Carl R.
May 06, 2012 Carl R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ian Frazier’s Great Plains is almost twenty years old now, but I’m just getting around to it. I’m sorry it took so long, but glad it waited for me.
As a work, it’s an odd-shaped duck--part history, part anecdote, part philosophy, part naturalism. The Plains, obviously, unify it. That and Frazier’s style. There’s a narrative lyricism that is simultaneously scholarly and poetic and which fuses past and present:

The town was called Mondak, because it straddled the Montana-North Dakota state line, an
Mar 19, 2015 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed, 2015
A wonderful travelogue and history lesson. I read Frazier's Siberia a few years ago and absolutely loved it, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick this up. This book is also about a land I know little about even though it's smack dab in the middle of our country. Frazier's appreciation and enjoyment of the Great Plains' history, especially around the time of Sitting Bull, really shines through. His hopefulness for our country is also paramount, although, reading his words 25 years later ...more
Dec 30, 2010 Andie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've never before visited any part of the Great Plains. Nor had I ever before read a book by Ian Frazier, though his writing is frequently featured in the New Yorker, so I was familiar with him. While I wouldn't say this book convinced me in any way to want to visit the Great Plains- to the contrary, Frazier portrays this region as one who's heyday was long in the past, despite many joy inducing elements- but it very much made me want to immediately pick up another of Frazier's books.

Part travel
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Jul 07, 2013 Cindy Dyson Eitelman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-14
It's a like Blue Highways (second greatest travel book of all time) with a theme. Ian Frazier crossed and criss-crossed the "American desert" both geographically and historically, creating a symphony of time and place. Past and present lie close to the surface, there--Crazy Horse, He Dog, and Little Big Man seem only a generation away. MX missiles sit at eternal alert in their carefully-tended silos. Founder's day in Nicodemus, the town that was supposed to be utopia for freed slaves stuck in ex ...more
How did I miss this one when I was going through my Ian Frazier stage? This book is previous to his famous novel, On The Rez, but I enjoyed this one even more. The descriptive quality of Frazier's words, his daily desire to approach every stranger on the street and ask them a question, his consistent follow-up, traveling back to a place years later to revisit a particular fact, it's all these things I can only hope make Bill Bryson crawl under a chair and suffocate himself with a sock. This book ...more
Mar 09, 2016 Sharron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just returned from an 8 week cross-country road trip, part of which took me through Minnesota, Montana, and both Dakotas. This book was the perfect way to end the trip and it answered lots of the questions I had while traveling through what I formerly thought of as "flyover" states. Never again though.

Frazier is brimming over with what in my family we call UBIs (useless bits of information) except that in his case though many of them may indeed be useless they are nevertheless fascinating. If
Sara Benson
Jan 06, 2011 Sara Benson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Equal parts retelling of history already well-known (e.g., Dust Bowl, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse) and personal travel narrative of an outsider (a Manhattanite who moves to Montana), I found this book shallow except in its stories of real Westerners that the author meets. By trying to be both introspective and quasi-academic, the book ends up being an unsatisfying overview of the Great Plains region. Perhaps the author should have done more homework, or dug more deeply into his experiences, to ...more
Frazier just up and moves to Montana, but not before stopping by his sister's wedding and drinking so much he longed for the hangover ambulance to come and take him to the hangover hospital. Ha ha. I enjoyed the personal elements of the narrative, but then the history lesson gets a little too thick. Or maybe just a little too disorganized. He shifts from telling amusing anecdotes to randomly naming off a Native American tribe and adding a random fact about them. That goes on for pages and pages ...more
Mar 11, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my kind of a book. Long sentences, lots of description, rambling ideas, nothing but a lot of fun and good information. Frazier takes us back and forth through the Great Plains, and time, and history. He's at the top of his game here, sometimes over the top, and its all good. I bought this book at Border's going out of business sale and am so glad I have it. a book, a real book I can leaf through and lend to people, and talk about, and read again, maybe by flipping to a passage I want to ...more
Kate Pierson
Maybe it's because I read this while actually on the Great Plains. I read most of it by the fire at Mom and Dad's. Or maybe it's because I'm so emotionally attached to the Great Plains (much more so than, say, Siberia), but I wanted more from this book. Although it does have a big "notes" section at the end, the text of this book is only 214 pages. The Great Plains need more than 214 pages, I believe. Don't get me wrong. I liked this book a lot. So much so, that I wanted more of it. My favorite ...more
L. Frockcoat
Feb 11, 2009 L. Frockcoat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard not to be caught up in Frazier's somber and lyrical meditation on the great plains. Frazier weaves together stories from his own travels with historical anecdotes in such a way that by the end, it seems as though he has given us a taste of most of the significant historical and cultural landmarks of the plains and allowed us to see the connections running between all of them. I'm sure that he overlooked some things and took some controversial positions, but to achieve this effect in 20 ...more
Curtis Edmonds
I have a rule, and that rule is that whenever I buy a book, and the book falls behind my nightstand and lives there for three years, and gets all gross and dusty, I have to buy the Kindle version and read it and write a review, and that's exactly what I'm doing here. GREAT PLAINS is not a great book, but it deserved better treatment than what I gave it.

GREAT PLAINS is a collection of travel stories and mini biographies centered around the great expanse between the Dakotas and the Pecos. Ian Fraz
Aug 05, 2015 Jared rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having recently completed "Bad Lands" by Jonathan Raban, I found it impossible not to constantly compare the two works. Raban's work is much more focused on a particular time period, where Frazier seems to move (quite seamlessly) from Native American days to modern times to the early '20s to the era of westward expansion. I would describe Frazier as more "evocative" than Raban and, in that capacity, perhaps he is MORE successful at a style of writing that honors the horizontal vastness that is t ...more
Dec 02, 2014 Rose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to give my brain a vacation with this one - Ian Frazier is one of my favorite authors and this love letter to the American Plains was a beautiful break. It reads like a travelogue interspersed with the history of whatever part of the Plains Frazier is traveling through (Custer’s Last Stand, Crazy Horse, Minutemen nuclear mission storage, African American settlements).

My favorite part of the book was Frazier’s response to Crazy Horse. After visiting the state parks that were once fronti
Oct 03, 2014 Marigold rated it liked it
Enjoyed it. So my uncle passed away (a good life - age 87) & we had a family reunion of sorts at his home to remember him & as a family to go through some of his things, as my cousins get ready to clean out his home & put it on the market. We were all invited to go through some of the smaller things like books, paintings, & kitchen things, & take what we wanted before things were boxed for Goodwill. This book is one of the ones I picked up. My uncle lived in New Mexico & ...more
Jul 31, 2013 Lydia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great Plains is a neat read especially if you've ever lived in the middle of America. A few minor details that made me smile: tumbleweed info, tractor lawn sprinklers, grasshoppers—"We have been the scourge of many Great Plains species, but we haven't made a dent in the grasshoppers." True, just ask my sister-in-law. There are some depressing topics too: the Ogallala aquifer, the complete annihilation of the buffalo, towns that have lost 50% of their residents.
Sean Owen
Jun 15, 2014 Sean Owen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite its massive size, the great plains not likely to make it to the top of anyone's list of America's great natural features. Part of the difficulty in appreciating the plains lies in its immensity, spanning from the Canadian border on down to the Mexican border. The other part of the problem lies is that over the past 200 years of white contact with the plains we have done a great deal to change them. Frazier sets out to make the case that the plains deserve far greater recognition. Frazier ...more
Jan 23, 2012 Cynthia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. I learned so much about things I never would have thought would interest me. This is like th very best of what a New Yorker article can be: a long, rambling thoughtful peregrination by a writer who is so smart and skillful that he makes everything seem poetic and beautiful and funny and inspiring and fascinating. Gosh, he's good.
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Ian Frazier (b.1951) is an American writer and humorist. He is the author of Travels in Siberia, Great Plains, On the Rez, Lamentations of the Father and Coyote V. Acme, among other works, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He graduated from Harvard University. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
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