front cover of City of Lake and Prairie
City of Lake and Prairie
Chicago's Environmental History
Kathleen A. Brosnan, William C. Barnett, and Ann Durkin Keating
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020
Known as the Windy City and the Hog Butcher to the World, Chicago has earned a more apt sobriquet—City of Lake and Prairie—with this compelling, innovative, and deeply researched environmental history.  Sitting at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan, one of the largest freshwater bodies in the world, and on the eastern edge of the tallgrass prairies that fill much of the North American interior, early residents in the land that Chicago now occupies enjoyed natural advantages, economic opportunities, and global connections over centuries, from the Native Americans who first inhabited the region to the urban dwellers who built a metropolis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As one millennium ended and a new one began, these same features sparked a distinctive Midwestern environmentalism aimed at preserving local ecosystems. Drawing on its contributors’ interdisciplinary talents, this volume reveals a rich but often troubled landscape shaped by communities of color, workers, and activists as well as complex human relations with industry, waterways, animals, and disease.

front cover of A City on a Lake
A City on a Lake
Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City
Matthew Vitz
Duke University Press, 2018
In A City on a Lake Matthew Vitz tracks the environmental and political history of Mexico City and explains its transformation from a forested, water-rich environment into a smog-infested megacity plagued by environmental problems and social inequality. Vitz shows how Mexico City's unequal urbanization and environmental decline stemmed from numerous scientific and social disputes over water policy, housing, forestry, and sanitary engineering. From the prerevolutionary efforts to create a hygienic city supportive of capitalist growth, through revolutionary demands for a more democratic distribution of resources, to the mid-twentieth-century emergence of a technocratic bureaucracy that served the interests of urban elites, Mexico City's environmental history helps us better understand how urban power has been exercised, reproduced, and challenged throughout Latin America.

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Nowhere Was a Lake
Margaret Draft
Four Way Books, 2024
Captivated by the simultaneously routine and disruptive nature of violence and desire, Nowhere Was a Lake marks a luminous debut from poet Margaret Draft. “What do you do when a horse dies? / You hollow out the land, // you try to make enough space, / and when you think you have enough, // keep digging.” In these poems, our own tenderness endangers us, and yet — when faced with the enormity of our hunger, an appetite that proclaims both the bounty of nourishment and our capacity for loss — Draft keeps digging. “He said this because // he himself had to enter the hole / with the horse and shovel, // shift the legs, reposition the head.” The speaker here has an unflinching pragmatism, a characteristic that paradoxically makes her emotions all the more tangible. This is how you prospect a grave, she seems to say, but you’ll be in it, too. You with your body among the other bodies. Draft rejects simple binaries, insisting that oblivion can be a place, that fidelity and betrayal can coexist in our most intimate relationships, that to live as a human animal means embodying both hunter and prey. Deft in its exploration of female sexuality, the emotional complexity of polyamory, and the distinction between freedom and abandonment, Nowhere Was a Lake mesmerizes with its erotic pastorals and frank prose poems. “Edge” interrogates “the dialectic of trust” structuring romantic relationships and negotiated through sexual physics: “It is not a question of whether you will / harm me, but whether you will / stick around long enough / to hold me when I am harmed.” The risk and reward of such exploration is uncertainty: anything could happen, but anything could happen. “In no place, going someplace, I know. / There are so few things I can say I know definitively. // But this must be the definition of plenty. / The sun slowly setting over the valley.”  And, yes, love may wend through the field as we thresh it. And, yes, we are in the light as it goes down. 

front cover of The Prisoner Pear
The Prisoner Pear
Stories from the Lake
Elissa Minor Rust
Ohio University Press, 2005

The twelve stories in The Prisoner Pear: Stories from the Lake take place in an affluent suburb of Portland, Oregon, but they could be taken from any number of similar enclaves across the United States. These stories infuse stark reality with occasional hints of magical realism to explore what the American dream means to twenty-first-century suburbanites. In a city where the homecoming queen still makes the front page of the weekly newspaper, ducks caught in storm drains and stolen campaign signs make up the bulk of the paper’s crime reports. The community’s hidden complexities, however, rival those of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

Each of the stories begins with an entry from the newspaper’s police blotter. Elissa Minor Rust fills in the background to these small, odd events-a headless parakeet found in a mailbox, a nude jogger, an alarmingly deathlike discarded teddy bear. Her stories, both humorous and disturbing, probe beneath the clear, hard surface of a community into the murky depths beneath.

The lake at the center of town is a constant in the lives of this town’s people, and it reappears throughout the book as a symbol of wealth and power, of love and loss. The Prisoner Pear offers a rare look inside the heart of suburban America. Reading these stories is, as one character observes, “like seeing the town from the inside out, as if the lake was its heart and the rest merely its bones and skin.”


front cover of The Tunnel under the Lake
The Tunnel under the Lake
The Engineering Marvel That Saved Chicago
Benjamin Sells
Northwestern University Press, 2017
The Tunnel under the Lake recounts the gripping story of how the young city of Chicago, under the leadership of an audacious engineer named Ellis Chesbrough, constructed a two-mile tunnel below Lake Michigan in search of clean water.

Despite Chicago's location beside the world’s largest source of fresh water, its low elevation at the end of Lake Michigan provided no natural method of carrying away waste. As a result, within a few years of its founding, Chicago began to choke on its own sewage collecting near the shore. The befouled environment, giving rise to outbreaks of sickness and cholera, became so acute that even the ravages and costs of the U.S. Civil War did not distract city leaders from taking action.

Chesbrough's solution was an unprecedented tunnel five feet in diameter lined with brick and dug sixty feet beneath Lake Michigan. Construction began from the shore as well as the tunnel’s terminus in the lake. With workers laboring in shifts and with clay carted away by donkeys, the lake and shore teams met under the lake three years later, just inches out of alignment. When it opened in March 1867, observers, city planners, and grateful citizens hailed the tunnel as the "wonder of America and of the world."

Benjamin Sells narrates in vivid detail the exceptional skill and imagination it took to save this storied city from itself. A wealth of fascinating appendixes round out Sells’s account, which will delight those interested in Chicago history, water resources, and the history of technology and engineering.

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