Book review: Great Plains

“The beauty of the Plains is not just in themselves but in the sky, in what you think when you look at them, and what they are not.” – Ian Fraizer, Great Plains

After my South Dakota sojourn,  the book Great Plains by Ian Fraizer was frequently mentioned to me in comments.

The thing is, I have read this book.

And the book was suggested to me for good reasons.

The book is a wonderful travelogue about this landscape where so many of our national archetypes originated.

I’ve gone over why I find this landscape intriguing previously.

Photos and documentaries cover the beauty of this ecosystem.

But what about the people and culture that populate this area?

Great Plains does an excellent job of giving a feel for this mythic place.

Ian Fraizer journeyed on the Great Plains from Texas to Canada and chronicles the history,  the landscapes, and the culture that lives in the American version of the steppes.

But above all else, the people themselves are covered in a series of vignettes taken from Fraizer’s travels.

What kind of people live in these vast open spaces? Spaces often less populated than “wilderness areas” in the Rockies themselves.

Some fascinating and memorable characters it seems –  Soldiers in missile silos. Ranchers. Lakota people. Historians and many others.  And one person, in particular, would return in a sequel of sorts a decade later in a book I am currently reading.

Frazier’s stories have a bit of a shaggy dog quality to them.

They are meandering, wryly told and are not about getting from A to B  but about what happens during the points from A to B.

An obvious comparison is to a book I previously discussed:  Backbone of the World. 

But where Backbone of the World had a more somber and cerebral tone while looking at an environment and the people in it, Great Plains is a bit more effusive, funny and grounded in the approach to telling the tale.

The book is not for those looking for a cohesive journey  Or one on an #EPIC tale about the rigors of travel in an unforgiving terrain. It is a book for those who want to understand a place. And to get a feel for the people who live in this place.

The book zigs and zags. Slowly ruminates.  Frazier will make observations about a dog show in one chapter and then discuss Crazy Horse in the next.

The book was written in 1989. But perhaps the book was more prophetic than the author could have anticipated. The decreasing of the population of towns is even more pronounced now than in 1989. And the environmental pressures even more so of course.

Read Great Plains to understand, and to appreciate, a bit more of the American landscape.

And just to enjoy a very good book that is a modern classic in the travelogue genre.


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