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Bad Land: An American Romance
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Bad Land: An American Romance

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  1,075 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
Seduced by the government's offer of 320 acres per homesteader, Americans and Europeans rushed to Montana and the Dakotas to fulfill their own American dream in the first decade of this century. Raban's stunning evocation of the harrowing, desperate reality behind the homesteader's dream strips away the myth--while preserving the romance--that has shrouded our understandin ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published July 20th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1985)
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Feb 07, 2008 Ciara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
I picked this book up on the advice of the gossip monger of Terry, Montana. Terry is my favorite town ever, but I can't live there because there are no jobs and the wind would cause me to go insane, run away and live in a creek bed with my horse, and then drown in a sudden summer storm in a flash flood, which would lead the creek to be known as "Drowned Crazy Woman Creek."

The book a good telling of a myriad of experiences of the homesteaders of the early 20th century in the dryland region of Eas
Kathleen F
Feb 24, 2010 Kathleen F rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strange that there isn't a genre of literature devoted to place. Sure, there are "travel" books, but these tend to suggest dalliances, adventures that are measured in days, passports, tourism. But I find myself increasingly drawn to books and authors that explore locations as biographers would explore lives: delving into personalities, histories, parentage, lovers, abusers, and the details that so many casual passers-by might miss. Jonathan Raban's exploration of the ruined, Eastern stretches of ...more
Feb 17, 2013 Florence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Early in the twentieth century homesteaders came to the dry Eastern plains of Montana from all over including Europe, Scandinavia, the East Coast of the United States. They were drawn by government offers of free land and by artfully deceptive pamphlets with instruction on the new, scientific method of "dry farming". After a few hopeful seasons the rain stopped, the land dried up and these determined newcomers were ruined. Some hung on to the land, others fled west, heartbroken and eager for any ...more
Jun 07, 2008 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you ever wanted to know why the people of the Northwest (and we're not talking the cityfolk in Seattle) think and feel they way they do, then this is the book you need to read to understand the history behind the politics and attitudes of today. This is a fascinating look at the history of a particular period and area of our country and Bad Land pays big dividends for those who decide they want to know some things they otherwise might not. One of my favorite non-fiction books.
Jun 29, 2012 orsodimondo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jonathan Raban prende una generosa dose di storia, aggiunge geografia, topografia ed economia; miscela con antropologia e sociologia; agita con botanica, agraria, meteorologia e un po’ di zoologia; spruzza sentore di meccanica, gusto di viaggio, aroma d’autobiografia. Guarnisce con una fettina di cronaca e un cespuglio infestante d’artemisia. Ecco pronto un ottimo BAD LAND liscio che può accompagnarci per qualche giorno di piacevole sorseggiamento.

All’inizio del secolo scorso, il
Juan Alvarado Valdivia
man, I put this book to rest at pg. 140. really disappointed, but I just wasn't interested in it. other than being about Montana and some random people and families connected to the region, I wasn't sure what the purpose was in writing it other than Raban putting together a rag-tag of anecdotes and narratives about this new American obsession of his. The writing itself is fantastic, but I wasn't captivated by any narrative strand he threw in. Kind of seemed to hit the same note: Montana's a toug ...more
3.5 stars. Some beautiful, thoughtful writing. Some of it was also slow as molasses, and I thought some connections the author made seemed tenuous, if elegant, but I learned a lot and am glad I read it. In the early 20th century, railroad companies and the US government teamed up to settle the area of eastern Montana then known on maps as the Great American Desert with homesteaders. They touted the benefits of a new agricultural trend called 'dry farming.' That the latter was a mug's game was no ...more
Apr 23, 2011 Carin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has been on my radar since it was published in 1998, so yes, that's a very long time.

Mr. Raban goes to Montana and explores the promises that brought a generation of homesteaders to the state in the early 1900s, how their dreams worked out (badly, for as we know now, these poor souls were looking at the dust bowl and Great Depression in just a generation.) It was a little weird for me to figure out he was British. That was never mentioned directly, and instead I was left to figure it o
Dec 23, 2007 itpdx rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating and well written. The book follows closely a group of families that settled in the same area near Ismay, MT. Those that managed to stay and those that picked up and headed west. It is now clear that most of the area is much too dry to farm and is livestock land. He talks to their kids and grandkids, reads their writings and uses a book of interviews of people from the area that was put together in 1972.
My sister gave this book to me. She picked this book up because our mom was born i
Jonathan Raban's Bad Land traces the growth and decline of family farming in the inhospitable territory of Eastern Montana. At the beginning of the 20th century, this area was touted as the next great frontier (mostly by the railways who were looking to find inhabitants for the depot towns they needed). Thousands of European immigrants as well as seasoned Midwestern farmers looking for opportunities to expand arrived to stake their claims on soil that was proclaimed to be astonishingly fertile. ...more
Elizabeth Theiss
Dec 15, 2012 Elizabeth Theiss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-plains
When I first moved to South Dakota, a bookseller friend recommended this book as an avenue to understanding the people and the place that has now been my home for over a decade. Raban writes as an outsider seeing the Great Plains through personal discovery of the land, artifacts, historical records, and conversations. So he walks through one of the prairie skeletons that dot the western prairies and describes what he sees--the things left by the unfortunate homeowners back in the Thirties who de ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Jb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was about to rate this book a Four until the last three chapters, but these were so engrossing I upped my rating to Five. Book is mainly about how railroads circa 1910 promoted eastern Montana to immigrants and easterners as the end of the rainbow, took them out there and dumped them. Author spent two years in the 1990s visiting the area, rummaging through deserted farmsteads, talking with descendants from the duped families as well as with those who now prosper. Families seduced into small-fa ...more
Jul 24, 2013 Vicki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful history of the settling of Montana and North Dakota. Rabin takes us back to the early 1900's by trekking through the rough desert landscape that so many people thought they could transform into the next Garden of Eden. He delves into the written diaries of the settlers and the memories of the few remaining descendants that live there to produce an outstanding account of the broken hopes and dreams of the rugged folks who tried to survive. If the weather didn't drive the people away, th ...more
Stacy Bearse
Jul 12, 2013 Stacy Bearse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Well-researched and nicely told, BAD LAND looks at the great western migration that took place at the turn of the century. The plot is straightforward: city dwellers move to homestead plots in Montana, discover bad soil and terrible weather, ultimately fail miserably, and migrate further westward. The story is in the details. The novice farmers were lured by a government program which was instigated by the railroad industry, which needed people and an agri-industry to fuel its expansion west. Th ...more
Matt Brant
Raban makes riveting the bleak story of the settling of Eastern Montana in the late 19th century. It is well-organized, skillfully written, and based on sources like letters, diaries, and contemporary newspaper stories. It's a fascinating blend of travel narrative, history, and journalism. No wonder in 1996 it won prestigious prizes such as the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction and the NYT Editors' Choice for Book of the Year. Anybody interested in pioneer or frontier lif ...more
Jan 13, 2015 Kellymark44 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book isn't what I expected, but I loved it anyway. It describes in a very real way why someone would attempt to move to a flat dry land (Montana) and try farming in 1901. My great grandfather set out to do just that, not in Montana but in northern North Dakota. This book put the family stories I grew up with in historical context and gave me an insight and respect for what my great grandparents accomplished. It is a very American story. Now I am off to look at historical rainfall amounts fo ...more
Author Jonathan Raban's opening chapter eloquently drew me into semi-arid Eastern Montana. The book chronicles how just after the turn of the century the promise of free land from the government and deceptive publicity campaigns drew in emigrants. Their stories are amazing, how they grew into communities. The book honestly tells their stories of hardship, weather and ultimately failure. Through out the book Raban weaves is own personal accounts with the surviving family members. He is an outside ...more
Oct 13, 2012 Yve-Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time reading this book and it was well worth it. I really enjoyed the picture painted by Raban of the Montana life and landscape back at the beginning of the last century. For anyone who enjoys picture-language together with factual descriptions, then this would suit you. If you want a story with a plot, then you may not wish to take this book on. By reading this, you will learn a lot about a way of life which is quite unknown to people living in the UK (but may well be unders ...more
Jan 03, 2012 Amie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in the Western US.
I have driven through part of Wyoming a couple of times and remember vividly the feeling that my car was not moving at all because of the space and lack of landmarks. Mr. Raban spends time discussing this phenomenon in the beginning of his book, which, at that point, I was enjoying. By the midpoint of his book, I felt regret every time I had to put it down to do something else. He does a great job weaving history, geogr
E Sweetman
Dec 05, 2009 E Sweetman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to E by: my sister-in-law
Shelves: great-find
This book is one of the best of "place" for me personally. I briefly visited this area and felt lost as soon as we stepped out of the airport. The vast, endless, savage land and the BIG sky. I wondered what could draw people out there and why they stayed? Mr. Raban answers all beautifully and with humor. I am still drawn to the history of the place although it gives me an eerie feeling to think of returning.
Oct 16, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book gives an historical overview of farming, westward expansion, railroad building and immigration that shows how the Northern plains were settled and why that settlement was doomed to failure. Written from a Englishman's perspective, the outsider's view is helpful at illuminating what seems to be "just how it is" and demonstrates that the massive farm failures and outmigration from the region is no accident.
May 17, 2009 Tracey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Paula Edwards
Great book that shares the history of eastern Montana. It took me forever to get around to reading it, and as I began, I wondered,"where is this book going?". But then I got into it and loved it! I so appreciate now the myth that led so many settlers to the American West - the myth that they could "tame" arid farmland and make it yeild crops like the rich soil of the Midwest.
Apr 09, 2010 Kirby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A precise, clear picture of the lower eastern half of Montana just after the turn-of-the-century; and the lonely, tragic effects of Federal policies of easy credit and rah-rah boosterism on trusting people seeking to make a living. The prose is easy and insightful, the lessons applicable today.
Dec 11, 2016 Roger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 23, 2016 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This love letter about the western prairie (viz Montana) is spectacularly well crafted. The words evoke images of the wide open places known as Montana and North Dakota. If you have ever loved that land, you may be interested in reading this story of its settlement. This author pulls together reminiscences from various settlers and the journals of one family in particular, in addition to lengthy trips to understand the land. If you've ever spent time in the central plains, you will know that it ...more
Alex Taylor
I have always liked Rabans writing and this is a fascinating historical insight.
May 22, 2017 Karin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This could have been really dull but Raban made it interesting by telling the stories of the families who lived/live in that area of Montana.
Jan 23, 2014 Constantine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of Raban....I am appropiately chagrined. This book defies categorization and I was simultaneously stunned and enthralled as I experienced Raban's astounding prose...a poetic travelogue accross times and territories that is at once,a historical, sociological, political, philisophical, theological, exploration of the zeigtist of America at the turn of the century. Raban put me "there"..."there" being a mosaic of physical landscape(on the treeless, semi-arid plains of Eastern Mont ...more
Feb 19, 2017 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, ibooks
Beautifully written book about Eastern Montana and the people who tried to homestead the area in the early 1900s. Lured by the railroads, with a push from the government, people believed the hype and tried to farm very dry, poor soil. Most people left and headed further west. Some stayed. Almost a love story. Certainly a well written chapter in our nation's history.
Feb 07, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the beginning of the twentieth century wannabe homesteaders came to the dry Eastern plains of Montana from all over including Europe, Scandinavia and the East Coast of the United States. They were lured by government offers of free land and by artfully deceptive pamphlets with instruction on the new, scientific method of “dry farming”, that worked by capillary action and was bunkum promoted by Hardy W Campbell in his book “Campbell’s Soil Culture Manual.” The ranchers had argued the dry lands ...more
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“From the moment that the first plow blade bit into the crust, the homesteaders began to destroy the foundations of their new life, and in a very few years the crust was gone--used up, scattered, blown away by the dry summer winds.” 0 likes
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