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Great Plains

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  3,009 ratings  ·  236 reviews
National Bestseller

With his unique blend of intrepidity, tongue-in-cheek humor, and wide-eyed wonder, Ian Frazier takes us on a journey of more than 25,000 miles up and down and across the vast and myth-inspiring Great Plains. A travelogue, a work of scholarship, and a western adventure, Great Plains takes us from the site of Sitting Bull's cabin, to an abandoned house onc
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 4th 2001 by Picador USA (first published June 1st 1989)
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“I fear for the Great Plains because many people think they are boring. Money and power in this country concentrates elsewhere. The view of the Great Plains from an airplane window is hardly more detailed than the view from a car on the interstate highways, which seem designed to get across in the least time possible, as if this were an awkward point in a conversation….Convincing someone not to destroy a place that, to him, seems as unvaried as a TV test pattern is a challenge. The beauty of the ...more

This book is like taking the mind on a trip. A circuitous 25,000-mile drive through the heartland of America. The vast semi-arid plains of America.

In the book On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe by Andrzej Stasiuk,Michael Kandel (Translator), the author says: "That's why I rush to make these trips, why I'm so avid for details that will soon vanish and need to be re-created out of words."

This is what Frazier accomplish in this book, making it a perfect choice for someone who
Feb 12, 2011 rated it liked it
“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
Rex Fuller
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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 Mennoni ...more
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jack Getz
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best book I have read in years, and I read a quite few books! Great writing, wonderful research, interesting stories and facts and faces about a huge area of this continent that most write off as boring or tedious. It’s anything but that, and this gent knows how to relate wonderful stories based on really solid research and personal experience. He makes seemingly mundane things interesting.

Ian Frazier paints a beautiful picture of the Plains that warms the heart and challenges the m
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent set of essays exploring many aspects of the life and history of the Great Plains. His footnotes are worth reading too. He is an excellent writer who spent time exploring, researching, and traveling in the plains. I want to read his book called Siberia.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Away to the air shaft of the continent, where weather fronts from two hemispheres meet, and the wind blows almost all the time! Away to the high plains rolling in waves to the rising final chord of the Rocky Mountains!”

I live on the Great Plains. I live where they meet the Rocky Mountains, and I agree that it seems as if it slowly rise up to meet the Continental Divide, and I have walked their landscape a thousand miles. It wasn’t easy to love them; I had been in Seattle and San Francisco just
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A little bit of everything in this book that takes you on a journey across the not so defineable
area called the great Plains from Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska,
parts of Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico visiting dinosaur sites, Native American Ruins and abandoned sites, abandoned military forts, where Lawrence Welk came from, Billy the Kid lived, places Doc Holiday lived, Bent's Fort, places where the rendezvous took place, cemeteries, small towns, the home
John Spiri
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Frazier masterfully bounces between his narrative and keen observations and history lessons. I love his tendency to pile on evidence, not necessarily structuring his sentences with the standard three reasons for something, a, b, and c. Frazier might, when he gets on a roll, list 25 reasons why something is the way it is. It certainly works. The only complaint might be this book infects me with wanderlust, ideally around that vast central region of the US, the Great Plains.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
I found this to be a fun, if somewhat incomplete (the author couldn't go everywhere, of course!) non fiction book about The Great Plains of the U.S. Fun history tidbits about Lawrence Welk, Sitting Bull, Custer, Bonnie and Clyde, Crazy Horse, and others. The author did a great job making me feel like I was traveling along with him. I would like more diner and roadhouse descriptions next time, Mr Frazier! I would also have liked to hear about more spots on the Plains, but I realize the author onl ...more
Elizabeth K.
Oct 30, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jun 22, 2009 added it
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
Carl R.
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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, a
Nov 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Meara Breuker
Dec 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Honestly I have no idea why this book is so well-rated. It is poorly written by an obviously self-indulgent, self-important person. The first page alone every sentence ends in an exclamation point, like the author is yelling at you - I almost put it down right then and there. I almost wish I had. The story is disjointed, historical characters fall through the cracks (except for Crazy Horse, this guy LOVES Crazy Horse) and become strings of names reminiscent of some books in the Old Testament. It ...more
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-15
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 i ...more
Mar 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
L. Frockcoat
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 19, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Sara Benson
Jan 06, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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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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