A powerful eulogy to the great American grasslands and an informed look at where they have been and where they are heading. Grasslands are among the world's great biomes, but our culture's disrespect for them has produced an environmental catastrophe, says Manning (A Good House, 1993, etc). We have plowed the grasslands up, overgrazed them, submitted them to a despoliation that has all but wiped out their native flora and fauna. In return, nature has taken its revenge in the form of diminished agricultural yields and the kind of unstable pseudo-environment that creates such travesties as the dust bowl. But this is not merely a biophiliac's rants; Manning lovingly probes the history of the grassland. And he goes way back, starting with an overview of the early Clovis people, the later buffalo societies and grassland cultures, on to the homesteaders, the fencing wars, and today's wheat culture. Grassland characters from Wild Bill Hickock to progressive ranchers Ted Turner and Jane Fonda are situated in their respective roles, and Manning gets right into the soil as he covers the botany of bluestem, the vagaries of this system's natural hazards--fire and drought and mean winds--and the insidious introduction of the noxious knapweed and cheatgrass. He brings the native literature to bear on the grasslands as a place and creates a palpable environment through the writings of Willa Cather, Marie Sandoz, and Jane Smiley, among others. Through it all, from it all, emerges Manning as a ""memorist"" who loves that ""rush of freedom"" that attends an open vista of grassland. Walt Whitman, Louise Erdrich, and Merrill Gilfillan may be the poets of grass, but those wide open spaces couldn't have asked for a more impassioned and mindful voice on their behalf. Manning wants to see the return of bison, grass, fire, and wind, and this book makes a compelling case for such a return.