The Lies of the Land: Seeing Rural America for What It Is—and Isn’t (Hardcover)
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A "piercing, unsentimental" (New Yorker) history that boldly challenges the idea of a rural American crisis.
It seems everyone has an opinion about rural America. Is it gripped in a tragic decline? Or is it on the cusp of a glorious revival? Is it the key to understanding America today? Steven Conn argues that we’re missing the real question: Is rural America even a thing? No, says Conn, who believes we see only what we want to see in the lands beyond the suburbs—fantasies about moral (or backward) communities, simpler (or repressive) living, and what it means to be authentically (or wrongheadedly) American. If we want to build a better future, Conn argues, we must accept that these visions don’t exist and never did.
In The Lies of the Land, Conn shows that rural America—so often characterized as in crisis or in danger of being left behind—has actually been at the center of modern American history, shaped by the same forces as everywhere else in the country: militarization, industrialization, corporatization, and suburbanization. Examining each of these forces in turn, Conn invites us to dispense with the lies and half-truths we’ve believed about rural America and to pursue better solutions to the very real challenges shared all across our nation.
About the Author
Steven Conn is the W. E. Smith Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of many books, most recently Nothing Succeeds Like Failure: The Sad History of American Business Schools.
“Underlying the country’s red state–blue state polarization is a more profound, and widening, rural-urban split . . . A piercing, unsentimental new book [argues that] understanding it will require setting myths aside and grappling with what the rich and the powerful have done to rural spaces and people. Such demystification, Conn rightly insists, is long overdue."
— New Yorker
"An engaging, lively, comprehensive, and provocative study of ‘the Big Empty,’ the area between the Appalachians and the Sierras. Despite its bucolic look, ‘four powerful forces of American modernity’ permeate the Big Empty: militarization, industrialization, corporatization, and suburbanization. The so-called ‘lies of the land’ are the easy-to-miss, pervasive effects of these forces—effects that show the existence of an idyllic, real-America America has always been a myth.”
— Washington Independent Review of Books
"Conn takes our ideal small town where white Americans cherish hard work and independence from subsidies, along with religious and traditional family values, and shows it to be a nostalgic myth. The Land of Lies is a powerful book . . . but perhaps most importantly, his description of rural America as a hard place to make a living shows that it is a much more complex and interesting space than our myth ever allowed."
“[Conn is a] sharp observer who know[s] how myths of apple-pie-baking folk stolidly occupying a quaint-but-enviable moral high ground have been twisted over decades, generations even, to set up all kinds of exploitative exploits by snake-oil salesmen.”
— LEO Weekly
"How does a land tell lies? Conn’s premise is that our enduring image of rural America is in large part illusory, also since most people in America, about 75%, now live in urban areas, he theorizes our perception of rural life gets distorted by idealistic visions which don’t correspond to reality."
— Dayton Daily News
“Recent attention to rural America and its manifold ills is long overdue, but our understanding has been impeded by misleading generalizations and outright romanticization. The Lies of the Land cuts through such platitudes and describes our small towns and open spaces in all their complexity—showing us that rural America is inextricably bound to the rest of the country, rather than a realm apart."
— Alec MacGillis, author of 'Fulfillment: America in the Shadow of Amazon'
“When many imagine the American countryside, they think of quiet porches far from the bustling cities. That is not the world you’ll find in this brilliant book. Here, missile silos, factories, and suburban developments are as much a part of the rural landscape as mountaintops, family farms, and dirt roads. For those who’ve lost sight of life beyond the city, Conn offers a fresh perspective on rural America that may help a divided nation find common connection.”
— Bart Elmore, author of 'Country Capitalism: How Corporations from the American South Remade Our Economy and the Planet'
“Conn documents rural America as a space that has been militarized, industrialized, corporatized, and suburbanized, sometimes by rural inhabitants themselves. Readers will savor Conn’s upending of so-called rural crises and rural myths.”
— Dolores Hayden, author of 'Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000'