Daegan Miller
Daegan Miller
Writing | Landscape | History
This radical land.jpg

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+ Jacket Description

“The American people sees itself advance across the wilderness, draining swamps, straightening rivers, peopling the solitude, and subduing nature,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. That’s largely how we still think of nineteenth-century America today: a country expanding unstoppably, bending the continent’s natural bounty to the national will, heedless of consequence. A country of slavery and of Indian wars. There’s much truth in that vision.

But if you know where to look, you can uncover a different history, one of vibrant resistance, one that’s been mostly forgotten. This Radical Land recovers that story. Daegan Miller is our guide on a beautifully written, revelatory trip across the continent during which we encounter radical thinkers, settlers, and artists who grounded their ideas of freedom, justice, and progress in the very landscapes around them, even as the runaway engine of capitalism sought to steamroll everything in its path. Here we meet Thoreau, the expert surveyor, drawing anticapitalist property maps. We visit a black antislavery community in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York. We discover how seemingly commercial photographs of the transcontinental railroad secretly sent subversive messages, and how a band of utopian anarchists among California’s sequoias imagined a greener, freer future. At every turn, everyday radicals looked to landscape for the language of their dissent—drawing crucial early links between the environment and social justice, links we’re still struggling to strengthen today.

Working in a tradition that stretches from Thoreau to Rebecca Solnit, Miller offers nothing less than a new way of seeing the American past—and of understanding what it can offer us for the present . . . and the future.

+ Table of Contents

When the Bough Breaks

Act One: At the Boundary with Henry David Thoreau
Act Two: The Geography of Grace: Home in the Great Northern Wilderness

Intermission

Act Three: Revelator’s Progress: Sun Pictures of the Thousand-Mile Tree
Act Four: Possession in the Land of Sequoyah, General Sherman, and Karl Marx

Enduring Obligations

+ Interviews

In conversation with Nathan Jandl and Laura Dassow Walls on Henry David Thoreau, hope and other ethics, anarchism, and an environmentalism for today. For Edge Effects. Interview here. Feb., 2018.

In conversation with Kris Welch, for KPFA's The Talkies. Interview here. April, 2018.

In conversation with Steve Paulson, for To the Best of Our Knowledge. Interview here. April, 2018.

5 Questions with Daegan Miller, Author of This Radical Land, City Lights.

In conversation with Brian Edwards-Tiekert, for KPFA's Up Front. Interview here. June, 2018.

7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent, University of Chicago Press Blog. June, 2018.

In conversation with Sam Seder, for The Majority Report. Interview here. August, 2018

+ Excerpts

A Map of Radical Bewilderment: On the Liberation Cartography of Henry David Thoreau.” Places (March, 2018).

A Future Just, Green and Free, Under a Tree Named Karl Marx,Aeon (March, 2018).

Voices in Time: An American Timbuctoo,Lapham's Quarterly (March, 2018).

+ Reviews

Through interpretive brilliance and gorgeously crafted prose, Daegan Miller's This Radical Land: A Natural History of Dissent rescues this sense of environmental awe from excessive skepticism.... One of the most elegant and insightful examples of environmental writing I've seen in many, many years.

-James McWilliams, Pacific Standard

Miller offers an engaging interplay of natural and political history, and demonstrates an eye for that single detail that can illuminate the whole damn diorama.

-Jeff Ferrell, Times Higher Education

Nuanced, provocative and immensely learned. :

-Daniel Herman, Nature, Plants

Miller’s study is not just a historical counternarrative, then: It’s also a way of thinking about the contradictions of modern environmentalism, of asking whom the movement serves, what ideas are allowed, and who is marginalized. :

-Rebecca Leber, Bookforum

Although they are less famous than Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir, political radicals…were among the first to view the preservation of wildlands as inextricably linked to the struggles against slavery, Manifest Destiny, and industrial capitalism run amok.... In Miller's words, “who we are depends on where we are . . . that the best boundaries are not the ones that securely wall off one thing from another . . . but the ones that invite transgression so that we all may awake to a new day in a wild, enchanted world.” :

-Jonathan Hahn, Sierra

Miller’s debut views landscape...as both a witness to and a participant in American history, especially in stories of resistance.... The result is a text that succeeds not only in arguing its theories and presenting an elegant narrative but in reminding us just how easily certain people and places can be erased from our popular histories.... Fans of Derrick Jensen, Howard Zinn, and Rebecca Solnit will appreciate Miller’s fascinating and unexpected perspective on American history. :

-Booklist

A debut book that ranges across disciplines and decades to connect the natural environment—especially long-lived trees—to a scathing critique of American-style capitalism. Alternating abstract theory with impressive research, both bolstered by extensive sources . . . the author builds his case about understanding American history by examining destruction of the environment through essays grounded in the 19th century…. He offers an eclectic education often marked by soaring prose. :

-Kirkus Reviews

Inventive. . . . A creative linking of landscape and radicalism. :

-Publishers Weekly

Drawing on superb scholarly detective work, This Radical Land tells fascinating stories about the history of our ties to the land that give us an alternative to viewing natural spaces as either a resource to exploit or a wilderness museum for the privileged. Miller peels back the history to reveal that, however ignored, Americans have always resisted the exploitation of nature. Perhaps his more nuanced environmental history will inspire those today who, continuing the mute protest of the witness tree, would pull the planet back from the brink of death. :

-Richard Higgins, author of Thoreau and the Language of Trees

Daegan Miller rekindles a legacy of environmental dissent. The ideas and landscapes of nineteenth-century “countermoderns” are signposts, still legible, to alternative futures. This book bears witness like a burning bush. :

-Jared Farmer author of Trees in Paradise: A California History

Reviews on Gooreads.com.

Essays

On Possibility; or, The Monkey Wrench” in Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene, edited by Gregg Mitman, Robert Emmett, and Marco Armiero.  University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Voices in Time: An American Timbuctoo,” Lapham's Quarterly (March, 2018).

A Future Just, Green and Free, Under a Tree Named Karl Marx,” Aeon(March, 2018).

A Map of Radical Bewilderment: On the Liberation Cartography of Henry David Thoreau.” Places (March, 2018).

“Notes from the Enemy's Camp: On John D'Agata's New History of the Essay.” 3:AM Magazine (October, 2016).

“On Care in Dark Times.” Edge Effects (April 12, 2016).

“Distortion is the Sound of Life Uncontained.” The Hypocrite Reader 53 (June, 2015).

“A Letter to my Son as he Nears his Second Birthday.” Stone Canoe 8 (January, 2014).

Biographies of Henry David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, and John Brown for “Americans Who Tell the Truth,” an educational platform/organization built around artist Robert Shetterly´s portraits of historical and contemporary Americans.

Criticism

The Best Books on Radical Environmentalism,” Five Books (July, 2018).

Silent Spring & Other Writings on the Environment,” Bookforum (April, 2018).

Reading to Children to Save Ourselves,” Public Books (March, 2018).

Elm Street, USA.” Review of Jill Jonnes’s Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape. In Nature, Plants 4,1 (January, 2018).

“11 Books and their 11 Spectacular Trees,” Electric Literature (January, 2018).

“Wild Thing: A New Biography of Thoreau.” Review of Laura Dassow Walls’s Henry David Thoreau: A Life. In The Los Angeles Review of Books (July, 2017).

“The Slide Rule and the Crowbar: Henry David Thoreau in the Anthropocene.”Review of Robert M. Thorson’s The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years. In The Los Angeles Review of Books (April, 2017).

Review of Kathryn Cornell Dolan's Beyond the Fruited Plain: Food and Agriculture in US Literature, 1850-1905Agricultural History 89, 4 (Fall, 2015).

Interviews

“ ‘Protest Can Be Beautiful’: Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane.” Public Books (September, 2018).

The Wild Bunch: An Interview with Curt Meine and Gavin Van Horn.” Edge Effects (August, 2017). 

The Trump Diaries: A People's History of the Forty-Fifth Presidency, advisor.

Articles

“Reading Tree in Nature's Nation: Toward a Field Guide to Sylvan Literacy in the Nineteenth-Century United States.” The American Historical Review 121, 4 (2016): 1114-1140

“At Home in the Great Northern Wilderness: African Americans and Freedom’s Ecology in the Adirondacks, 1846-1859.” Environmental Humanities 2 (2013): 117-146.

Introduction to “Why We Write: A History Slam,” a bundled series of four essays that I collected and edited, and to which I contributed. Rethinking History 16, 1 (2012): 121-124.

“Drifting,” in “Why We Write,” Rethinking History 16, 1 (2012): 140-145.

Exhibitions

The Monkey Wrench. Part of the “Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities” international exhibit hosted by the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany. February 2015-January 2016.

The inaugural event was “The Anthropocene Slam: A Cabinet of Curiosities,” hosted by UW-Madison in the Fall of 2014, and here you can read my pitch for the monkey wrench.