The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990 Page: 254
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly
the relationship between man and nature in the West, particularly
when he turns his magisterial prose style to interpretive essay. The
American West as Living Space, though a slender volume in size, is a la-
gniappe of observations and hard thinking about the mythic land that
looms immense in an extraordinary number of our national dreams.
Its three essays, "Living Dry," "Striking the Rock," and "Variations on a
Theme by Crevecoeur," bring into hard-edged focus the intellectual
and emotional lens through which Stegner sees America Occidental,
the landscapes and cultures west of the hundredth meridian.
Those unfamiliar with Wallace Stegner's career might benefit from
knowing that since as early as his powerful biography of John Wesley
Powell (1954), Stegner has written about the West from a Turner/Webb
environmental perspective, and since he wrote the text of the first
Sierra Club coffee-table volume (in the midst of the historic fight about
damming Dinosaur National Monument) he has been a major voice ad-
vocating publicly owned wild lands. His "Wilderness Letter," composed
during the debates over the Wilderness Bill of 1964, has literally be-
come a sacred text for environmentalists. Like Bernard DeVoto, in
some ways his predecessor, he has also written major novels, the most
famous of which is Big Rock Candy Mountazn-thus the importance of
this new trio of essays, originally delivered as lectures to the University
of Michigan Law School in 1986.
Many of the first environmental histories in this country were written
by western historians. Earlier scholars tended to be more concerned
with cultural adaptation to the determinative influences of western
ecology, later ones with the consequences of those adaptations for west-
ern environmental health. Stegner addresses both these issues, but he
is most interested in the first. In the Webb tradition, he sees the heart of
the West as desert and the chief problem of western cultures as the col-
lection and distribution of water, which he argues will force us either to
adapt or, through massive spending and disruption of natural systems,
to engineer the problem out of existence, thus remaking the West.
That is not a new theme for western essayists, but it is, after all, the
salient one. Along the way to examining it, no one has ever synthesized
the environmental position with respect to western development more
thoughtfully and, perhaps, more lucidly than Stegner does in this little
book. All the familiar cast of characters is here, from Powell and the
nineteenth-century Mormon communal adaptation, to Theodore
Roosevelt and the origins of federal land management. But Stegner
also brings us up to date, discussing issues ranging from the Sagebrush
Rebellion to the Forest Service's problems with post-World War II en-
vironmentalists, and he writes insightfully about the new interpretive
works by Donald Worster, Marc Reisner, and Dyan Zaslowsky and the
Here’s what’s next.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990, periodical, 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/m1/294/: accessed July 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.