Slide Mountain, Or, The Folly of Owning Nature

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University of California Press, 1995 - History - 212 pages
The drive to own the natural world in twentieth-century America seems virtually limitless. Signs of this national penchant for possessing nature are everywhere--from suburban picket fences to elaborate schemes to own underground water, clouds, even the ocean floor.
Yet, as Theodore Steinberg demonstrates in this compelling, witty look at Americans' attempts to master the environment, nature continually turns these efforts into folly. In a rich, narrative style recalling the work of John McPhee, Steinberg tours America to explore some of the more unusual dilemmas that have arisen in our struggle to possess nature.
Beginning along the Missouri River, Steinberg recounts the battle for three thousand acres of land the river carved from a Nebraska Indian reservation and deposited in Iowa. Then he travels to Louisiana, where an army of lawyers butted heads over whether Six Mile Lake was actually a lake or a stream. He continues to Arizona to investigate who owned the underground, then to Pennsylvania's Blue Ridge Mountains to see who claimed the clouds. He ends in crowded New York City with Donald Trump's struggle for air rights.
Americans' obsession with owning nature was immortalized by Mark Twain in the tale of Slide Mountain, where a landslide-prone Nevada peak turned the American dream of real estate into dust. In relating these modern-day "Slide Mountain" stories, Steinberg illuminates what it means to live in a culture of property where everything must have an owner. The drive to own the natural world in twentieth-century America seems virtually limitless. Signs of this national penchant for possessing nature are everywhere--from suburban picket fences to elaborate schemes to own underground water, clouds, even the ocean floor.
Yet, as Theodore Steinberg demonstrates in this compelling, witty look at Americans' attempts to master the environment, nature continually turns these efforts into folly. In a rich, narrative style recalling the work of John McPhee, Steinberg tours America to explore some of the more unusual dilemmas that have arisen in our struggle to possess nature.
Beginning along the Missouri River, Steinberg recounts the battle for three thousand acres of land the river carved from a Nebraska Indian reservation and deposited in Iowa. Then he travels to Louisiana, where an army of lawyers butted heads over whether Six Mile Lake was actually a lake or a stream. He continues to Arizona to investigate who owned the underground, then to Pennsylvania's Blue Ridge Mountains to see who claimed the clouds. He ends in crowded New York City with Donald Trump's struggle for air rights.
Americans' obsession with owning nature was immortalized by Mark Twain in the tale of Slide Mountain, where a landslide-prone Nevada peak turned the American dream of real estate into dust. In relating these modern-day "Slide Mountain" stories, Steinberg illuminates what it means to live in a culture of property where everything must have an owner.
 

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SLIDE MOUNTAIN: Or the Folly of Owning Nature

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Taking his title from a Mark Twain satire, Steinberg teases from the parched earth of property law a nifty morality tale about the notion of ``owning'' nature. The urge to own a piece of the pie goes ... Read full review

Slide Mountain, or, The folly of owning nature

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Steinberg (history, New Jersey Inst. of Technology and Rutgers) acquaints readers with 20th-century Americans' attempts to own nature. Using an episodic approach, he examines legal cases in which the ... Read full review

Contents

Identity Crisis in Bayou Country
52
The Private Life of Water
82
Cloudbusting in Fulton County
106
A Conclusion
166
Copyright

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About the author (1995)

Theodore Steinberg, Assistant Professor of History at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, Newark, is author of Nature Incorporated: Industrialization and the Waters of New England (1991).

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