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Down to Earth

Nature's Role in American History

Fourth Edition

Ted Steinberg

Publication Date - September 2018

ISBN: 9780190864422

370 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Passionately argued and thought-provoking, this powerful text retells our nation's history with nature in the foreground


In this ambitious and provocative text, environmental historian Ted Steinberg offers a sweeping history of the United States--a history that places the environment at the very center of the narrative. Now in a new edition, Down to Earth reenvisions the story of America "from the ground up." It reveals how focusing on plants, animals, climate, and other ecological factors can radically change the way that we think about the past. Examining such familiar topics as colonization, the industrial revolution, slavery, the Civil War, and the emergence of consumer culture, Steinberg recounts how the natural world influenced the course of human history. From the colonists' attempts to impose order on the land to modern efforts to sell the wilderness as a consumer good, he reminds readers that many critical episodes in U.S. history were, in fact, environmental events. The text highlights the ways in which Americans have attempted to reshape and control nature, from Thomas Jefferson's surveying plan, which divided the national landscape into a grid, to the transformation of animals, crops, and even water into commodities.

New to this Edition

  • A revised Preface more clearly articulates the major turning points in the environmental history of America
  • Part One offers a revised treatment of the alienation of Indians and ordinary Euro-Americans from nature as the eighteenth century came to a close
  • Updates throughout explain nature's role in the rise of the United States as the world's paramount power
  • A substantial revision of Chapter 16 takes into account recent work in the history and theory of capitalism to explain the global ecological changes since World War II and the United States' role in bringing them about
  • An updated bibliography

About the Author(s)

Ted Steinberg is Adeline Barry Davee Distinguished Professor of History and Law at Case Western Reserve University.


"The reason I assign Down to Earth again and again is that it is simply the best text available--far and away--for American environmental history. Compared to its competitors, it is superior in its writing, its coverage, and its vision--not to mention its cost."--Adam M. Sowards, University of Idaho

Table of Contents



    Prologue: Rocks and History

    Part One: Alienation in the Land

    1. Wilderness Under Fire
    2. A Truly New World
    3. Unfettered Accumulation

    Part Two: Rationalization and its Discontents

    4. A World of Commodities
    5. King Climate in Dixie
    6. The Great Food Fight
    7. Extracting the New South
    8. The Unforgiving West
    9. Conservation Reconsidered
    10. Death of the Organic City

    Part Three: Consuming Nature

    11. Moveable Feast
    12. The Secret History of Meat
    13. America in Black and Green
    14. Throwaway Society
    15. Shades of Green
    16. Capitalism vs. The Earth