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Nature's Metropolis


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About the Author

William Cronon is Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Cronon (history, Yale) investigates the relationship between Chicago and the rural areas that comprised its hinterlands during the 19th century in terms of commodity flows--grain, lumber, and meat. Although the focus is on Chicago, the economic transformations he describes took place in many areas. His analysis is at its clearest in relating how the building of railroads led to a revolution in the grain trade and to the Chicago Board of Trade's dominance of grain prices. Soundly grounded in original sources, especially the federal court bankruptcy records used to map capital flows, this well-written study is a significant addition to the literature on U.S. economic history and should be acquired by all academic libraries.-- Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette

"Thoroughly original... Illuminating... Brilliant." -- Donald L. Miller - New York Times Book Review "No one has ever written a better book about a city... No one has written about Chicago with more power, clarity and intelligence than Cronon." -- Kenneth T. Jackson - Boston Globe "An intoxicating piece of scholarship and enterprise... It is really a work of biography: a look at the life of Chicago." -- David Shribman - Wall Street Journal

In a fresh approach that links urban and frontier history, Cronon ( Changes in the Land ) explores the relationship between Chicago, 1848-1893, and the entire West, tracing the path between an urban market and the natural systems that supply it. Examining commodity flows--meat, grain, lumber--and the revolution in transportation and distribution, the book chronicles changes in the landscape: cattle replace buffalo; corn and wheat supplant prairie grasses; entire forests fall to the ax. Thus Wyoming cattle, Iowa corn and Wisconsin white pine come together in Chicago. City and countryside develop in tandem. Cronon notes that gateway cities are a peculiar feature of North American frontier settlements and the chief colonizers of the Western landscape. He compares the world of rural merchants in the pre- and post-railroad eras, and cites the McCormack reaper works to illustrate the sale of manufactured goods to the hinterland. The culmination of this dynamic period is in the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Readers interested in the growth of capitalism will find this an engrossing study. Photos. (Apr.)

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