From the bestselling author Simon Winchester, a human history of land around the world: who mapped it, owned it, stole it, cared for it, fought for it and gave it back.
In 1889, thousands of hopeful people raced southward from the Kansas state line and westward from the Arkansas boundary to stake claims on the thousands of acres of unclaimed pastures and meadows. Across the twentieth century, water was dammed and drained in Holland so that a new province, Flevoland, rose up, unchartered and requiring new thinking. In 1850, California legislated the theft of land from Native Americans. An apology came in 2019 from the governor, but what of the call for reparations or return? What of government confiscation of land in India, or questions of fairness when it comes to New Zealand’s Maori population and the legacy of settlers?
The ownership of land has always been complicated, opaque, and more than a little anarchic when viewed from the outside. In this book, Simon Winchester explores the the stewardship of land, the ways it is delineated and changes hands, the great disputes, and the questions of restoration – particularly in the light of climate change and colonialist reparation.
A global study, this is an exquisite exploration of what the ownership of land might really mean – not in dry-as-dust legal terms, but for the people who live on it.
‘The intricate vocabulary used to talk about land is one of the many pleasures … The theme could not be more topical … It packs in a wealth of ideas and human drama – and gives a fresh view of centuries of social conflict seen through a geographer’s lens’
‘Spend some time with Simon Winchester, and you will sail oceans, survive earthquakes, peer into volcanoes, pore over maps, mine the origins of language and measure the immeasurable world … Poignant … Winchester is good … adding dashes of drama, narrative, indignation and, above all, connection to disparate historical accounts … There is soul in this book … A stirring call for communal imperatives, even if its history recounts the constant allure of private ownership’
‘Moving across varied histories and geographies, he offers us one case study after another of how the once seemingly inexhaustible surface of the Earth has devolved into a commodity … Winchester is a master at capturing the Old World wonder and romance … His prose frequently exudes the comfort and charm of a beloved encyclopaedia come to life, centuries and continents abutting through the pages’
‘Few authors of narrative nonfiction have ranged across the global landscape more widely … In his latest engrossing voyage, the author turns to the land itself, covering a sizable portion of the 37 billion acres that compose the Earth … [A] unique blend of wide-eyed curiosity, meticulous research, and erudite analysis … Of course, this being Winchester, ‘Land’ abounds with dozens of eye-opening factoids to please any fan of popular history … But this is no mere bathroom book packed with intriguing facts. His storytelling talents on full display … Winchester’s colourfully rendered capsule biographies help to convey the gravity of certain historical milestones, and nearly 60 illustrations and photographs add to the experience … Winchester is, once again, a consummate guide’