The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property—our proprietary relationship with the land—through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future.
Land—whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city—is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing—and have done—with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet.
Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world’s land—and why does it matter?
Winchester (The Perfectionists) probes "humankind's approach to the possession of the world's surface" in this eclectic account. Using his purchase of 123 forested acres in New York's Berkshire Mountains as a launching point, Winchester explores the geological history of the planet (he notes that New England formed one billion years ago in the Southern Hemisphere) and the legal, cultural, and social issues related to land use and ownership. He details the decades-long creation of Flevoland, a province in the Netherlands built entirely on land reclaimed from the North Sea, attributing Dutch communalism and consensus-driven policymaking to the fact that much of the country is below sea level. Winchester also details debates over indigenous land rights in America and Australia, and notes that Australian mining magnate Lang Hancock, whose daughter, Gina Rinehart, is now the world's largest private landowner with 29 million acres under her control, once suggested that unemployed aboriginal Australians should be sterilized. Winchester amasses a wealth of intriguing factoids and arcana, though readers looking for a comprehensive overview of the subject will be disappointed. Still, this is an entertaining and erudite roundup of humanity's ever-evolving relationship with terra firma.