Incredibly, the ten most costly catastrophes in U.S. history have all been natural disasters--seven of them hurricanes--and all have occurred since 1989, a period, ironically, that Congress has dubbed the Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Why this tremendous plague on our houses? While some claim that nature is the problem, in fact, as environmental historian Ted Steinberg explains, historically speaking, much of the death and destruction has been well within the realm of human control. Surveying more than a century of losses from weather and seismic extremes, Steinberg exposes the fallacy of seeing such calamities as simply random events. Acts of God explores the unnatural history of natural calamity, the decisions of business leaders and government officials that have paved the way for the greater losses of life and property, especially among those least able to withstand such blows--America's poor, elderly, and minorities. Seeing nature or God as the primary culprit, Steinberg argues, has helped to paper over the fact that, in truth, some Americans are better protected from the violence of nature than their counterparts lower down the socioeconomic ladder. How else can we explain that the hardest hit areas have been mobile home parks and other low-income neighborhoods? Beginning with the 1886 Charleston and 1906 San Francisco earthquakes, and continuing to the present, Steinberg spotlights the defective approach to natural hazards taken by real estate interests, the media, and policymakers. By understating the extent of storm damage in news reports and offering quick repairs and cosmetic solutions to damaged property, fundamental flaws in the status quo go unremedied, class divisions are maintained, and unsafe practices continue unquestioned. Even today, with our increased scientific knowledge, he shows that reckless building continues unabated in seismically active areas and flood-prone coastal plains, often at taxpayer expense. Sure to provoke discussion, Acts of God is a call to action that must be heard before the next disaster hits.
Americans are locked in a love-hate relationship with their lawns, and Ted Steinberg tells you why. The rise of the perfect lawn represents one of the most profound transformations in the history of the American landscape. Today the lawn is one of America's leading "crops," outstripping cotton in acres by a factor of two. "American Green," Ted Steinberg's witty expose of this sometimes bizarre phenomenon, traces the history of the lawn from its explosion in the postwar suburban community of Levittown--just miles from where Steinberg grew up--to the present love affair with turf colorants, leaf blowers, and riding mowers. For half a century, Americans have been on a quest for the greenest, weed-free, ultra-trim turf imaginable. But perfection has its costs. Blending muckraking journalism and social history, Steinberg looks at both the lighter and the darker side of the all-American landscape, from mower accidents and pesticide poisonings to lawn-mower racing and the man so addicted to perfection that he re-created Augusta's 12th hole in his backyard. 40 illustrations.
A tour de force of writing and analysis, Down to Earth offers a sweeping history of our nation, one that for the first time places the environment at the very center of our story. Writing with marvelous clarity, historian Ted Steinberg sweeps across the centuries, re-envisioning the story of America as he recounts how the environment has played a key role in virtually every social, economic, and political development. Ranging from the colonists' attempts to impose order on the land to the modern efforts to sell the wilderness as a consumer good, packaged in national parks and Alaskan cruises, Steinberg reminds readers that many critical episodes in our history were, in fact, environmental events: the California Gold Rush, for example, or the great migration of African Americans to the North in the early twentieth century (in part the consequence of an insect infestation). Equally important, Steinberg highlights the ways in which we have envisioned nature, attempting to reshape and control it--from Thomas Jefferson's surveying plan that divided the national landscape into a grid, to the transformation of animals, crops, and even water into commodities (New Englanders started trading water rights by the early nineteenth century). From the Pilgrims to Disney World, Steinberg's narrative abounds with fascinating details and often disturbing insights into our interaction with the natural world. Few books truly change the way we see the past. Down to Earth is one of them: a vivid narrative that reveals the environment to be a powerful force in our history--a force that must be examined if we are truly to understand ourselves.
Winner of the 2015 PROSE Award for US History A “fascinating, encyclopedic history…of greater New York City through an ecological lens” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)—the sweeping story of one of the most man-made spots on earth. Gotham Unbound recounts the four-century history of how hundreds of square miles of open marshlands became home to six percent of the nation’s population. Ted Steinberg brings a vanished New York back to vivid, rich life. You will see the metropolitan area anew, not just as a dense urban goliath but as an estuary once home to miles of oyster reefs, wolves, whales, and blueberry bogs. That world gave way to an onslaught managed by thousands, from Governor John Montgomerie, who turned water into land, and John Randel, who imposed a grid on Manhattan, to Robert Moses, Charles Urstadt, Donald Trump, and Michael Bloomberg. “Weighty and wonderful…Resting on a sturdy foundation of research and imagination, Steinberg’s volume begins with Henry Hudson’s arrival aboard the Half Moon in 1609 and ends with another transformative event—Hurricane Sandy in 2012” (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland). This book is a powerful account of the relentless development that New Yorkers wrought as they plunged headfirst into the floodplain and transformed untold amounts of salt marsh and shellfish beds into a land jam-packed with people, asphalt, and steel, and the reeds and gulls that thrive among them. With metropolitan areas across the globe on a collision course with rising seas, Gotham Unbound helps explain how one of the most important cities in the world has ended up in such a perilous situation. “Steinberg challenges the conventional arguments that geography is destiny….And he makes the strong case that for all the ecological advantages of urban living, hyperdensity by itself is not necessarily a sound environmental strategy” (The New York Times).