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How did we come to adopt the strange notion of owning land?an exploration by one of Americas finest nature writers.. In this richly entertaining story that reaches back to the beginning of British common law and up to the most recent Supreme Court takings decisions, John Mitchell reveals how we came to accept a system of private ownership. Building upon the heartbreaking story of a tribe of praying Indians who bought into the colonists legal system and settled their own 2000-acre tract, only to be dispossessed and herded into a detention camp, he explores every variation on this important theme. }In this richly entertaining story that reaches back to the beginning of British common law and up to the most recent Supreme Court takings decisions, John Mitchell reveals how we came to accept a system of private ownership. Building upon the heartbreaking story of a tribe of praying Indians who bought into the colonists legal system and settled their own 2000-acre tract, only to be dispossessed and herded into a detention camp, he explores every variation on this important theme. An hilarious visit to the Mitchell ancestral manor in Scotland, a brilliant panorama of the single vast grid into which we carved the great plains and mountains of the West, a surreal excursion to a Native American reservation now developed into a mammoth casino, and suspenseful encounters between developers and conservationiststhese are among the highlights of a truly original and timely book. }

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780738201467
ISBN-10: 0738201464
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 159mm x 22mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Counterpoint
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publish Date: 4-Jun-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A Thoreauvian ramble through English common law, American history, the New England landscape, and much else. Mitchell (Walking Towards Walden, 1995), winner of the John Burroughs Essay Award, takes a sidelong look at our tenure on the American land, contrasting communal-property ideas of the continent's indigenes with imported ideas of might and right - ideas, he writes, that are really fairly new, dating only to the 18th century, before which time one bought the right to live on a particular piece of land, not the land itself. "How do you determine where the boundaries lie exactly while you are out walking, and if you happen to cross an imaginary line, one run out and recorded and set on paper and filed in a registry of deeds, what does it matter?" he asks while roving in the Yankee woods of Massachusetts. It matters plenty, he answers, to his good-fences neighbors, who jealously guard their domains with shotguns, writs, and pot-bellied pigs. It matters, too, to history; the domain of the Nashobah Indians, on whose historic ground Mitchell and his neighbors now dwell, is contested by four postage stamp-sized Massachusetts townships. Mitchell is quite at home entertaining the airless abstractions of property law, but he's resolutely (and literally) down-to-earth; "to know a place, to know the real map of the world, you have to get out on the land and walk," he notes, and walk he does all over the green fields, turning up a solid piece of nature writing in the bargain. Elsewhere he examines the history of public- and private-domain property rights, tracing them through Anglo-Norman custom into the present and considers the question whether we have the moral right to destroy habitat in order to make room for yet another boxlike development for 60 or 70 or 100 well-heeled families. A thoughtful, beautifully written addition to environmental and regional literature. (Kirkus Reviews)


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