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Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  292 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
In 1876, the U.S. Congress declared the locust “the single greatest impediment to the settlement of the country between Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.” Throughout the nineteenth century, swarms of locusts regularly swept across the American continent, turning noon into dusk, devastating farm communities, and bringing trains to a halt. The outbreaks subsided in the 18 ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 11th 2005 by Basic Books (first published October 1st 2000)
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Rating details
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Dec 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Ever since reading the Little House books when I was a kid, I wondered what happened to those grasshoppers that destroyed everything. They were horrifying and disgusting and why did I not hear anything about them outside the books? For awhile, I wondered if they were cicadas, until I learned that cicadas don't eat anything. So when this book was recommended to me, I jumped on it.

So, turns out those locusts have been nearly extinct since the 1890s. But in Laura's There were over a tr
Richard Reese
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Early white settlers on the high plains of the western U.S. were always bummed out when colossal swarms of locusts dropped by for lunch. The sky would darken, and the land would be filled with the roaring buzz of millions of fluttering wings. Within an hour or so, everything was covered with them, including the settlers, who frantically tried to brush off the hundreds of hungry insects that were chewing apart their clothing.

They were Rocky Mountain locusts, a North American species that lived we
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: natural-world
Read this slowly and drink it all in. Lockwood puts the Rocky Mountain Locust into historical perspective and introduces you into all the characters (and some of them really are) concerned from Laura Ingalls Wilder to New York Financier Jay Cooke. Finding the frozen remains of an extinct insect species in a glacier (that is also quickly disappearing despite what you might think about Global Warming) was a personal challenge to Lockwood, who doesn't just write about "science stuff," but is a prof ...more
Jessica Jones
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
One review of this book called it an 'entomological thriller', which made me laugh, but then I started reading... and I have to agree! Jeff Lockwood is a professor at the University of Wyoming and is every bit as funny, observant, and scientifically accurate in dialogue as he is on the page. If you enjoy nature, mystery writing, adventure, or good nonfiction narration, you'll get a kick out of this crazy read, and will probably want to take a trip out to the Rockies just to breathe the air desc ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Well, that title is a heck of a mouthful. I picked this as the next target for operation “be less scared of bugs by learning about them”, since locusts are not likely to be a problem where I am, but they’re just freaky enough (particularly in some of the accounts of locusts blotting out the sky) to make me a little bit uncomfortable. Less safe than bees, but further away.

In any case, Locust is a mostly interesting discussion of locusts and their impact on the North American frontier. People star
Sara Van Dyck
Perhaps too much entomology for some tastes. But what I admired and enjoyed is that Lockwood takes this small creature and shows many aspects. He connects his study with frontier history, our ignorance of biology, agriculture, the effects on natural systems when humans alter habitat, and biodiversity. Lockwood shows the difficulties of research – there is funding, the challenge of crawling on a glacier and of scooping out dead locust bodies from the ice, and the struggle to get published.

Nov 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Interesting book, but it's the modern sections that are the most interesting. It bogs down in the middle and gives a bit too much detail on the lives of the scientists studying locusts--their lives were interesting, but but I felt the focus of the book wandered too far.

I'd have liked to see more photographs or depictions of how the locusts differ from typical grasshoppers.
Dec 29, 2012 rated it liked it
It was pretty interesting. I won't spoil the fun, but in reality what happened to the rocky mountain locust may have bearing on the monarch butterfly.
Oct 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: entomology

The Rise and Fall of the "Green Imps of Satan"

Boy, there's nothing like a good disaster story, is there? Jeffrey Lockwood chose an obscure but rewarding subject, Melanoplus spretis, the Rocky Mountain Locust, whom 19th-century entomologists also considered naming the "Detestable Locust" or "Hateful Grasshopper." As these lively monikers imply, Lockwood embroiders his tale with fascinating vignettes gleaned from the annals of entomological research.

In the first half of the book, Lockwood recount
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found the subject intriguing, but had no idea what to expect. I hadn't known what the real difference between a locust and a grasshopper was, and now I know a lot more than that. For a scientist author, this had a lot of history, but it fit in very well. This is a popular science, and an impressively good true mystery story.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this after reading Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser, a biography of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and of her books and relationship with her daughter. The episode with the grasshoppers in On the Banks of Plum Creek always fascinated and terrified me, so I decided to read more about the actual history. Lockwood studied the particular locust species (the only one in North America) for years and knows his stuff. Don't read if you can't handle LOTS of detailed information about bugs, though!
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again, I love books like this. Pick a relatively narrow subject and explain it in detail. That is my idea of a good read. When I found this book in the library, I knew I had a winner. Author Jeffrey Lockwood, a scientist specializing in the Rocky Mountain locust, a now extinct North American insect, has written a real page turner. From being the scourge of the West in the late 1800’s to becoming extinct within just a few short decades, Lockwood develops the story of the scientists who pursu ...more
Rena Sherwood
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, animals
You think your life is bad? At least you did not have to live through the worst locust plagues in recorded history -- where the locusts not only blotted out the sun, ate all of your crops and gardens but ate the clothes off of your back. Such was the fun of life in the American West in the 1860s and 1870s.

These mini-monsters were the Rocky Mountain locust -- North America's only true locust species. The species, in swarms of trillions in the 1870s, would be extinct by 1920. (Lockwood coyly hints
Aug 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-school
By Jeffery A. Lockwood

Locust is a nonfiction book about "The Devastating Rise And Mysterious Disappearance Of The Insect That Shaped The American Frontier." Just the title says it all. It is not the kind of book that you just sit down and pick up. It is a "entomological thriller" that is beautifully written and amazingly interesting. The author starts out with the climax of the book but does not give you the whole picture, which is part of what makes the book so amazing. I really would hav
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: college-reads
Okay this book really deserves a 2.5 rating, but we don't have that option, so I have to give it a 2. Why? Well, it's a bug book. A bug book I had to read for class. Normally I find our "textbooks" to be interesting. I loved the interdisciplinary writing in it. However: I did NOT like the overall book. Some chapters were enthralling; others made me beg God (or whatever deity or lack thereof you wish to believe in) to end my misery. I get that Lockwood felt (and still feels) very passionate about ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it liked it
I covered this book for ERS book club, and I have to say that I found the overall story of the locust to be completely fascinating. On the other hand, Lockwood has a tendency to go on tangents that gets to be super annoying after awhile (Do we really need to know that a hired guy murdered your outfitter tour guides two years later? No.). I also could have done without the pages and pages of whining in the final chapters ("No one would fund my research," "Hiking up to the glaciers was SO HARD," e ...more
Albert's Swarm. In 1875, billions of locusts covered hundreds of square miles of land in the plains states, wreaking total devastation wherever they descended. They came back again and again throughout the late 1800s, then totally disappeared, last being sighted in 1902. What happened? That question and many others are answered in Jeffrey Lockwood's absorbing tale of entomologists, the weather, politicians/religious leaders/economists, and the intriguing, ravenous Rocky Mountain Locust -- found ...more
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature-writing
My love of nature writing leads me down some interesting paths. Being from Kansas, I found this historical and scientific report fascinating. One can understand why fundamental Christianity is so powerful in the Mid-West. Over a period of 16 years, farms were literally visited by plagues of locusts with no successful controls. These invasions were so intermittent and unpredictable that they were compared to tornadoes for their similarities in destruction. Then just as suddenly, they disappeared ...more
Tippy Jackson
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Wow! The author really brings his obvious enthusiasm to his work and his writing and that alone makes this a good read. The author's excitement is really what made this interesting and kudos to him for sharing his excitement with us. I enjoyed reading about his personal quests and the history of this insect species. The author does a good job of bringing you back to the time when this locust was plaguing the nation. But mostly, I could almost feel his pulse racing as he dug through the snow and ...more
Mar 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008-mybooks
In the book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, we read:

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground and the house with the noise of a hailstorm.

It is one of many ‘testimonial’ excerpts that Jeffrey A. Lockwood includes in his book Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Rounding up from 3.5 stars.

This is a really thorough history of the Rocky Mountain Locust, including the swarms of the late 1800s, and its ultimate demise. Parts of it were really fascinating, and others went into a bit more detail than I was looking for. I vividly remember reading about the locust plague in the Little House on the Prairie series, and this book certainly brings that to life in great detail. It was particularly interesting to learn about the first government responses to these ev
Mark Vander Werp
Mar 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with even a passing intereset in insects or ecology
Lockwood is a pretty decent science writer and the subject matter was fascinating (of course I have a bit of a penchant for entomological topics). I was surprised that I had never heard of this bug, the Rocky Mountain Locust, despite earning a BS degree in entomology and working in pest management for 2 years. Yet, according to Lockwood, this locust was probably the most important economic insect in North America and was documented in even larger swarms than the famous African locust, which stil ...more
Oct 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Locust swarms so big, they blotted out the sun. When they descended they ate EVERYTHING, even fabrics and the wooden handles on shovels and rakes. This was one of the most catastrophic problems in the Mid-West from about 1870 until almost 1890. It wiped out farmers all over the Mid-West, but the locusts only plagued the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River.

Then, suddenly the locusts swarmed no more. Ever.

The why's and the wherefores of the this phenomenon has puzzled entomo
Christina Dudley
Mar 20, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting account of locust swarms in the 1870s and 1880s that devoured farmers' crops and every green thing in their path, leaving failed homesteads and destitution. Any reader of Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek will recall the fate of Pa's wheat crop and how, to support the family and pay off debts, he was forced to walk hundreds of miles east to find work, two years in a row.

Author Lockwood quotes Plum Creek, as well as fellow Minnesotan author Maud Hart Lovelace's Gen
Feb 01, 2008 rated it liked it
This one caught my eye browsing the gardening section. Have you ever wondered what became of the Rocky Mountain locust, which wreaked so much havoc amongst our pioneer ancestors? I hadn't either. But in entymological circles, it has been an enduring mystery for almost 2 centuries. Various extinction theories are put forth and shot down until we ultimately find out "whodunit." You'll also find fascinating and heartwrenching stories of locust swarm attacks on the frontier, and perhaps more than yo ...more
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Not bad for a general science book. Reads like a murder mystery and I couldn't put it down at the end while the author moved slowly towards revealing the current hypothesis for what caused the sudden extinction of the Rocky Mountain locust (which he developed, of course).

The chapter about the political response to the western suffering caused by the locust plagues was an unexpected bonus. The conversation about whether or not people should help their fellow citizens who are poor is pretty much
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Obviously, with my unhealthy LIW obsession, I had to read this book. Though the author only mentions Laura briefly, the subject of the book still pertains directly to her life experiences. As a historian, rather than an entomologist, I enjoyed the first third of this book the most, especially the first-hand accounts of the locust swarms. The rest of the book ventured a bit far into vagaries of entomology and somewhat confusing taxonomic classifications for my tastes, but the conclusions were fas ...more
Marc Brackett
Dec 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Not only did the author provide a broad historical context which was informative, he also laid out a very compelling theory as to the disappearance of the Rocky Mountain Locust.

Equally as interesting is the notion that someday this species might just return. The search for the homeland or secret birthing grounds of this species was like reading a well written murder mystery.

The author deserves a lot of credit for taking what many would consider a small subject and m
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
An excellent book of non-fiction, of the kind lately that takes a small historical event, or species, or idea, and shows how it played an enormous but unremarked role in making the world what it is today. And it's a mystery, too! Lockwood tries to solve the 'murder' of the ROcky Mountain locust, which filled the skies and destroyed the farms in the 1870s, and then disappeared. He finds carcasses in a glacier in the Wind River Mountains, and, entomological detective that he is, comes up with a pl ...more
This book was mildly interesting, but it kind of bogged down in the middle where the author goes on and on and on about the government's failure to help out the settlers who got clobbered by the locust's deprivations and about who blamed who about the locust's appearance on the prairie. The parts about his search for the Rocky Mt. Locust were very interesting as well as the parts where he discussed the insect & its life-cycle. A good editor could have pared this book down by at least 50 page ...more
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