Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West by Patricia Nelson Limerick.
The New York Times Book Review, Lauren F. Winner
What distinguishes Limerick from other prominent Western historians is her inimitable prose. Limerick boldly breaks all the rules of academic writing.
From Booklist March 1, 2000
Unlike many academic historians, Professor Limerick frequently delivers lectures to general audiences. This volume collects such forays into the public square since she wrote a history of the West, The Legacy of Conquest (1987). Her subjects are various but unified by the concept that the West's history hardly ended with Frederick Jackson Turner's famous "Frontier Thesis" in 1893. History permeates the trans-Mississippi West (inspiring her title), but the popular awareness of its continuity to the present--expressed in controversies over land and water usages and in interethnic relations--lends itself to oversimplification of past events. To illustrate, Limerick selects the Modoc War of 1872^-1873 in Northern California, representing it as far from being a pat settler-native battle. Although Limerick's essays grapple with historiography (one piece critiques textbooks), she pitches so earnestly toward the public rather than academia that fans of Western biographies, histories, and novels will find her exploration of underlying patterns in the endlessly fascinating study of the West provocative.
Larry McMurtry, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove
Patricia Nelson Limerick is an original, learned, passionate writer. Everything she writes about the history of the American West deserves attention.
Garry Wills, author of A Necessary Evil and St. Augustine
Patricia Limerick is simply one of the best writers alive-and the astonishing thing is that she thinks as clearly and logically as she writes.
William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky
Patricia Nelson Limerick has been a dominant voice among New Western Historians for close to two decades. In Something in the Soil, she delivers rigorous, thought-out opinions, often iconoclastic, always on the side of inclusiveness, in vivid, memorable prose. This book is a must for those who want to understand recent thinking about the past of the American West, and its future.
John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War
Patty Limerick writes like a whirlwind, full of sass and great intelligence, and plenty of humor between the lines. Something in the Soil gives us Western history with a twist: wit, serious honesty, and the wisdom to break shibboleths without malice aforethought. Her history is grim, it is funny, it is groundbreaking and original. Her mind is so quick that no paragraph in the book will ever gather a speck of dust. All is imbued with compassion, and a great deal of charm. Here is a live-wire writer and historian at the top of her game.
Howard R. Lamar, editor of The New Encyclopedia of the American West
Something in the Soil is truly an extraordinary book of essays on the American West, past and present__in its way a very worthy successor to Limerick's The Legacy of Conquest, for it discusses aspects of the American West never treated before. But equally significant, the essays reflect Limerick's lively dialogue with hundreds of scholars, critics, and experts in a dozen fields. As a result, Something in the Soil promises to be one of the most original, revealing, provocative and lively treatments of the American West to appear in a decade. This is a must for understanding the American West in the twenty-first century.
Richard White, author of "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A History of the American West
There is really no substitute for being in the audience when Patty Limerick speaks, but Something in the Soil is the next best thing to the pleasure of her company. These essays are often funny and entertaining, but they are also probing, questioning, and thoughtful. People who think Patty Limerick is too critical of the West and miss her deep passion and commitment to the place and all its pleasure are, I am afraid, terminally tone deaf.
In Something in the Soil, Patricia Nelson Limerick travels far outside the usual academic circles to bring Western past and Western present into a spirited union. Whether her topic is the rapid growth in the West today, the patent awfulness of most academic writing, or struggles over the standing of the "Great White Men" of the region's past, Limerick operates on the principle that history is an active presence in the West, layers of collective memory that are, quite literally, "something in the soil." Enlightening and always witty, this wide-ranging collection of essays and arguments from the New West's landmark historian offers an artful journey into its dramatic past and contentious present.
About the Author
Patricia Nelson Limerick is a professor of history and chair of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder.