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PrairyErth (A Deep Map)
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(The Travel Trilogy #2)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,167 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Robert Penn Warren pronounced Heat-Moon's Blue Highways "a masterpiece." Now Heat-Moon has pulled to the side of the road and set off on foot to take readers on an exploration of time and space, landscape and history in the Flint Hills of central Kansas. ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published February 15th 1999 by Mariner Books (first published 1991)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Kate Lawrence
Jul 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
I spent 2-1/2 years reading this amazing book because I didn't want it to end. For an author to devote time over several years visiting and researching every corner of a single Kansas county, walking it, talking to the locals, and writing 622 pages about its landscape, history, and people was an elegant labor of love. His affection for the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills, what he calls the "most easterly piece of the American Far West," permeates every page. Some readers may not like the de ...more
Jul 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe this is as close to landscape architecture as a writer can get - a "deep map" of Chase County, Kansas that touches on nearly every aspect of the terrain there: the people, the history, the vegetation, the infrastructure, and even a map detailing the watershed of the area. I need to read it several more times before I can determine if it is a five-star book. I enjoyed his "Blue Highways" book more, but I think this book might be more monumental. My favorite chapters were the ones on Osage O ...more
Oct 24, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandonded
Perhaps I am lazy. Perhaps I am weak. But after 500-odd pages of this book (625 total) I really had to drop it and move-on. I need to say that I really enjoyed Blue Highways - I must have read it over a decade ago. And I have to give credit where it is due - the author's writing and style are commendable in this book. The prose is, at times, most beautiful and engaging. It was at times challenging too with a vocabulary that had me reaching for the dictionary at regular intervals. But this micros ...more
What the hell is it? Travel? Environmental writing? Sociology? If I had to guess, I would say that Least Heat-Moon's response would be that it's all of the above and none of them, that all of these are unnecessary categories imposed on lived experience. And he would be correct. It's so fully integrated and freewheeling that the only thing that unifies it is its profound sense of place. Which happens, weirdly, to be a place I'm very familiar with-- Chase County, Kansas, where I spent some small s ...more
Nov 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of the landscape and storytelling
Shelves: my-library
One of my favorite books of all time. This book greatly aided me in my transition to living in the vast middle of the United States, and helped me appreciate its beauty and storied history. I visited the region described in this book a number of times during my 5 years in the Midwest, and it was amazing to go there after reading this book. I have read and reread it.
Mark Armstrong
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
One long term side effect from reading this book: you won't be able to just blow through all those small, half-deserted remnants of towns on your road trips, annoyed that you have to slow down for a few seconds before getting back to 55. Now you will wondering, Who ran these stores? Who shopped here? Why a town here? You may find yourself circling back through town again, putting your travel schedule in peril. ...more
Lee Trampleasure
May 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
An amazing insight into a small rural county. I had the pleasure of visiting Chase County for a few days in 2006, and asked "how true" the book was. I was told that while it has its inaccuracies, the general trend was accurate (of course, the book is now about 20 years old, so things have clearly changed). If you make it to Chase County, be sure to stop by the Emma Chase Cafe in Strong City. ...more
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this a long time ago but the phrase "a deep map" stuck with me. This is a really great book that clued me into the fact that there is beauty in the natural and cultural history of any landscape. ...more
Jul 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those who are just trying to get through Kansas
Kansas to most people is Kansas as the Avett Brothers describe: as nowhere as I can be. To Least Heat-Moon Kansas is an ancient sea, a prairie sea, the great prairie desert, rivers, county lines, fire, home of the Kaw southwind people, and home of the frontier settlers. The tall prairie plains are a seldom acknowledged part of our history and ecosystem. For most people, me included, Kansas is something to get through, but Least Heat-Moon takes the time to dissect, interject, and inspect what has ...more
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A deep and lasting impression of a prairie county halfway along Highway 50, where the west begins, where the author senses a pervading Americana. I love William Least Heat Moon's books, and I took my time with this one - dipping in and out over months. It is so rich and varied - it has everything. Solid and absorbing, he builds a vivid picture of the characters who live in a place like Chase, Kansas, lived there, built it, worked it, farmed it, hunted it, sold it, crashed in it, and just about e ...more
Boreal Elizabeth
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This was the first Heat Moon book I read and loved it! If you are into minute details of land and maps and people and history and society and have the patience to walk in that landscape one step at a time and can feel the wind move and know it's moving something deep inside without you really wanting it to or knowing what the result may be then this one's for you. HM takes some pretty dry material and enfuses it with deep meaning beyond the surface facts. The steady accretion of details builds t ...more
Nick H
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a great way to follow up Blue Highways. I didn't know what to expect going into this "tome" dedicated to a single county in the lackadaisical southeastern Kansas. WLHM grids up the county, and cuts into each piece like it is it's own delicacy. Looking at the history, the geology, local newspapers, animals, plants, roads, railroads, tall tales, stories, name it. On top of all, WLHM's witty sarcasm makes it feel less like homework, and more like a journey you take with him. Hi ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I dislike Kansas and that's being kind, on the other hand to thoroughly enjoy a book about a county in Kansas shows the brilliant writing ability of Least Heat-Moon. As I read on had my own fantasies of having and endless life with every county in the USA having an equally sized book by this same writer. He is gripping in a way that few are. ...more
Jim O'Donnell
Dec 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book that you have to take in chunks. It is a phenomenal work or research and experience on a specific chunk of land in Kansas. It is an astounding book but I found that I had to read 100 pags and put it down for a week then pick it back up. I loved it.
Gregg Bell
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it

Least Heat-Moon is a magician. How anybody could take a county in Kansas and turn it into a fascinating, edifying, educating read is beyond me. But he did. You don't have to look far to get the feel that this book is a work of art. The cover itself is gorgeous. I remember reading the book gingerly because to damage the binding by opening it too wide would be tantamount to desecrating high art.

There's really no way to classify this book. It is part travelogue. Part interviews. Part anthology (co

Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Started reading this about 5 days ago. This is a huge departure from my usual read. Virtually all of my reads are Novels, Short Stories, and the occasional poetry. The Non-Fiction I read usually is related to my Non-Literary interests, such as Cartoons, Music, and the occasional, but currently infrequent Graphic Novel.

What inspired me to read this? Well, I had heard it mentioned favorably, along with Blue Highways (which I will have to probably get). I saw it at a thrift store for $2:00. I brow
Felix Hayman
Jan 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In recent years there has been a growing interest in what I would call psychogeography or perhaps you could call it travel with meaning. Yet so many years ago the epitome of this work appeared and subsequently disappeared with so little fanfare. After writers like Sebald, PrairyErth distinguishes itself as a unique analysis of a small part of Kansas, like a geophysical survey of the history and phenomenology of place. It can be said that would make it a seriously difficult work to approach, but ...more
Robert Maier
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great treatise on living in a small place, and clarifies many nasty aspects of American culture, from cruelty to native Americans and African-Americans, to general closed-mindedness and suspicion of anything different or new, to greed and self-centered psyches, to abuse of everything from religion to the environment. Not that these attributes are solely the province of the praries, but seeing them on a small, isolated scale illuminates one universal truth after another. This is why I live Will ...more
matt harding
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
At around page 250 I was ready to stop reading the book--the prose seemed to plod along and I figured there was no shame in putting the book down; however, I kept reading and was rewarded later with some wonderful insights. After finishing the book, I can say that it was worth the earlier effort--the later sections deal with memory and dreams and really open up some interesting ways of thinking about place and our connection to it. This book is worth the time and will reward the persistent reade ...more
Jun 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I took a rest from this one in June, noting then
that it's "several inches thick but curiously enjoyable at a leisurely pace."

I went back to it in October and browsed in it
for a couple of weeks, soaking up the liveliest
mix of geography and history I've ever read, and
it was all about one county in Kansas! Fabulous
combination of archival research, personal inter-
views, and a walking acquaintance with the land.
Nice finding out how his "Blue Highways" came
about, too.
Monwar Hussain
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is like nothing you have ever read. It deep-dissects a Kansas county. It grows on you, grows on you, and then grows on you so much that you are actually afraid of finishing it. That's the stage I am in. It transports you, standard fare for great travel books. But then this is not a travel book, this can be more appropriately termed a 'Place Book'. A boring, nondescript Kansas county happens to be the place described. And Heat-Moon produces great travel-lit out of it. :) ...more
Feb 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
I had just started leading bicycling trips when I read this book. The descriptions of Chase County, Kansas completely changed the way I looked at all the landscapes and little towns i was traveling through.
Robert Mills
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's full of minute details, very long, and I wished it would have never ended. Everybody, every place, has a story, and Wiliam Least Heat-Moon knows how to tell it. Every where in the world should have a "deep map." If only we had more authors like Heat-Moon to write them. ...more
Jun 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
I found this very difficult reading. It was huge and detailed. My kids gave it to me because my family is from Kansas and it was fun to read names and things my father had told stories about. It was informative and interesting but made for a very specific audience.
Aug 20, 2009 rated it liked it
He's not kidding with the "deep map" & "epic history" part of the title. The author takes a non-linear, immersive journalist approach to the prairielands of Kansas.

May bore the pants off of many readers but I enjoyed his curiosity and critical humanity.
Nov 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely beautiful book... pure poetry.
May 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding! Its the best thing this guy has written. In his other books he tends to be whiny but this is excellent.
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
The author traveled Chase County, Kansas, digging up history on the plants, animals, and people of the prairie, both past and present. Well written; very interesting.
Albert Norton
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’m a fan of good lyrical writing.

So much so that I am open to reading pretty much anything if it’s said well, even if other elements of writing – such as a plot and a point – are lacking. I've often said that I would be happy to read the back of cereal boxes if the content was written well. Just last night I saw that very word-picture used also by Don DeLillo in White Noise, where he invented an academic department at Fictional U devoted to the practice.

Even for me, though, a 600-page non-ficti
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
I can't imagine a book that I would be less likely to not only read, but really enjoy, than PrairyErth. Never mind personal rule breaking books like The Book Thief or Gone Girl, but rather a pretty massive book of over 600 pages, which is a "deep map" of a single county in Kansas, of all places. Not too fond of the Midwest, really, but Least Heat-Moon, author of Blue Highways, spins a remarkable tale of history, land, religion, Native Americans, murder, bigotry and more. It kept me turning the p ...more
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From wikipedia:

William Least Heat-Moon, byname of William Trogdon is an American travel writer of English, Irish and Osage Nation ancestry. He is the author of a bestselling trilogy of topographical U.S. travel writing.

His pen name came from his father saying, "I call myself Heat Moon, your elder brother is Little Heat Moon. You, coming last, therefore, are Least." Born in Kansas City, Missouri, H

Other books in the series

The Travel Trilogy (3 books)
  • Blue Highways
  • River-Horse

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“Suddenly, over the slope, as if tethered to a cord of air drawing quickly upward, came a Northern Harrier, motionless but for its rising. So still was the bird - wings, tail, head - it might have been a museum specimen. Then, as if atop the wind, it slid down the ridge, tilted a few times, veered, tacked up the hill, its wings hardly shifting. I though, if I could be that hawk for one hour I'd never again be just a man.” 5 likes
“When the Populist congressman "Sockless" Simpson of Medicine Lodge, Kansas, misspelled his hometown while running for office, he said, "I wouldn't give a tinker's durn for a man who can't spell a word more than one way.” 2 likes
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