1p Book Review: Bad Land by Jonathan Raban

bad land

Nige recommends Jonathan Raban’s account of the praire homesteaders…

Mixing history with reportage, travelogue, reconstruction and personal narrative, Jonathan Raban’s wonderful book Bad Land (available for 1p here) tells the story of the homesteaders who came to settle on the all but unpopulated prairies of Montana in the teens of the 20th century.

Encouraged by government incentives, the blandishments of the railway companies and the spurious science of ‘dry farming’, they came out in high hopes, and the weather gods initially smiled on their endeavours with a rare succession of rainy years. Lulled into a false sense of security, the homesteaders began to spend and borrow and expand – and then, in the Twenties, normal weather resumed, farming became all but impossible, homesteads were abandoned and the disillusioned settlers trekked west in search of work and water…

Raban tells the story through the histories of individual families, whose later members are his guides around the abandoned lands and into their still recent ancestral past (Raban’s book dates to 1996). He also focuses on such remarkable characters as the pioneering photographer Evelyn Cameron (a shame my paperback edition had no illustrations, but there’s plenty of Cameron’s work online). As he returns to the present, Raban also traces the ominous lines from the great ‘betrayal’ of the homesteaders to their ‘bad-blood descendants’, the paranoid survivalists, the militias and bombers.

Bad Land is an impressive feat of vivid and hugely readable storytelling, infused with affection and respect for the people whose story it is. Though himself irredeemably urban and liberal, Raban is clearly stirred and moved by the land and the people he encounters and by their extraordinary history. He does them proud.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

2 thoughts on “1p Book Review: Bad Land by Jonathan Raban

  1. sophieking@btinternet.com'
    Sophie King
    October 4, 2013 at 10:37

    I simply can’t let that photo pass without comment. These people are living in a wooden shack in the middle of the dustbowl and yet the man of the house is wearing a tie? A fantastic nod to matters sartorial, Nige.

  2. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    October 6, 2013 at 15:55

    Yes it’s wonderful isn’t it Sophie – in fact all three of them are notably well dressed. How did they do it?

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