If Thomas Jefferson was with us today, he would want every library across his young republic to freely circulate American Georgics: Writings on Farming, Culture, and the Land. This comprehensive, and extremely well-annotated anthology is edited by Edwin Hagenstein, Sara Gregg, and Brian Donahue — and here is what they set out to achieve: “American Georgics is a collection of representative agrarian writings of the past two centuries and more, from J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur to Wendell Berry. The collection reveals the great reach of the agrarian idea and its durability in American thinking — initially as an expression of mainstream rural culture, and later reborn as a dissenting vision of radical reform. Agrarianism begins with the understanding that the work we do, as individuals and as a society, is a critical factor in shaping our character. Agrarians continue to believe, with Jefferson, that there is something profoundly satisfying and valuable for human beings in working the earth, and that there is something equally important to the health of society in the way the land is cultivated.”
American Georgics‘ selections range far and wide — from James Madison’s Address Delivered before the Albemarle, Va. Agricultural Society (1818) to Aldo Leopold’s essay The Farmer as Conservationist (1939). Along the way, we hear the agrarian voices of writers such as George Perkins Marsh, Susan Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, Hamlin Garland, Willa Cather, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Henry A. Wallace, Louis Bromfield, Scott & Helen Nearing, Wes Jackson, and many, many more.
This book is a resource that the Land Library can’t do without, along with these books that we are incredibly fortunate to have on our shelves:
Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to New Agriculture by Wes Jackson (founder of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and a foremost spokesman for agriculture that takes nature as its measure), The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural by Wendell Berry (the central agrarian thinker of our day?).
American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace by John Culver & John Hyde (Wallace was one of the most influential Secretary of Agriculture in the twentieth century, Vice-president under FDR, and the Progressive Party candidate for President in 1948), The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, edited by Norman Wirzba, The Art of the Commonplace: Agrarian Essays by Wendell Berry (May’s Land Library Book Club selection!).
Thoreau’s Country: Journey Through a Transformed Landscape by David Foster, Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield (one of the bestselling books of the 1940’s), Virgil’s Georgics, Janet Lembke’s translation of Virgil’s classic agrarian poem.
Liberty Hyde Bailey: Essential Agrarian and Environmental Writings, edited by Zachary Michael Jack (Liberty Hyde Bailey, possessor of a wonderful name, dean of the Cornell University College of Agriculture, advocate of nature study as a way of engaging youth, and a leader in early twentieth century agricultural thought), A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture Since 1929 by Paul K. Conkin.
For a current day update of american georgics across the land, take a look at our earlier post:
The work lives on!