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Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World (2021)

by Simon Winchester

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5301246,847 (3.83)23
The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property-our proprietary relationship with the land-through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future. Land-whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city-is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing-and have done-with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. Land: The Ownership of Everywhere examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world's land-and why does it matter?… (more)
  1. 00
    A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Neil Oliver's History of Scotland covers a lot of the same issues as part of his explanation of Scotland's history. Also, both books start with Earth as a molten mass followed by continental drift.
  2. 00
    Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: David Graeber's book talks about the motivation for paying property taxes as a means to assert and conserve ownership of property.
  3. 00
    Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia by Steven Stoll (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Ramp Hollow talks about land ownership within the context of the settlement of Appalachia. It also explains that the Appalachian forests were treated as commons by the earliest settlers.
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» See also 23 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
this was mostly interesting and definitely well researched. there were parts that i couldn't focus on or that i zoned out listening to. i think the really interesting bits will probably be different for everyone, and this is more than worth reading for those parts. i just wish the whole thing was on that level.

"'The law locks up the man or woman who steals the goose from off the common but lets the greater villain loose who steals the common of the goose.' -- Anonymous, 1821 ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Feb 21, 2024 |
I wasn’t sure this would be a worthwhile read, but Winchester draws you in with fascinating details of separate storylines that add up to an impressive whore. Strangely, some rather glaring grammatical errors throughout that seem to gather momentum at the end. Not enough to put me off to scent. ( )
  BBrookes | Nov 17, 2023 |
Simon Winchester is my answer to the "dinner with anyone living" question. And, if he appeared at my door with a knock and smile, I'd gladly begin preparing a feast while he regaled me with his latest adventures.

The Professor and the Madman (his account of the Oxford English Dictionary's creation) is now a Netflix movie. His own organization style is equally nuanced, choosing to take a different approach in presenting history on myriad subjects.

His latest book, Land, looks at the notions of property, borders, and frontiers with an eye on how past events were shaped around these ideas leading into modern times.

I liked this book; however, my favorite is still Atlantic (pirates!). If you like history told by an engaging writer, Winchester is well worth a try. ( )
  Gravewriter | Jul 22, 2023 |
Plenty of interesting stories and some elegant language. Let down a few times by what looks like very light editing—repeated phrases and stories that could have been cut, and a few clunker sentences. ( )
  NickEdkins | May 27, 2023 |
Enjoyable and interesting look at land ownership in different places and times, and especially about the social disruption caused by changes in the systems, and of course also about the iniquities of various systems. Mostly told with a wry sense of humor; but once in a while there’s a bit more preachiness than I thought required. ( )
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: "Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!"

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 'Discourse on Inequality' (1755)
Dedication
Dedicated to Chief Standing Bear

In 1879 the U.S. government declared this Ponca chief to be a "person" under the law.

But they still took away his lands.
First words
On a warm midsummer's evening just before the end of the last century, in a book-lined lawyers' office in the pretty town of Kent, Connecticut, I handed over a check for a moderate sum in dollars to a second-generation Sicilian American, a plumber named Cesare, who lived in the Bronx but who had driven up into the lush New England countryside especially for the brief formalities of this day.
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The author of The Professor and the Madman and The Perfectionists explores the notion of property-our proprietary relationship with the land-through human history, how it has shaped us and what it will mean for our future. Land-whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city-is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing-and have done-with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet. Land: The Ownership of Everywhere examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world's land-and why does it matter?

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