cover image Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

William Cronon. W. W. Norton & Company, $27.5 (530pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02921-5

In a fresh approach that links urban and frontier history, Cronon ( Changes in the Land ) explores the relationship between Chicago, 1848-1893, and the entire West, tracing the path between an urban market and the natural systems that supply it. Examining commodity flows--meat, grain, lumber--and the revolution in transportation and distribution, the book chronicles changes in the landscape: cattle replace buffalo; corn and wheat supplant prairie grasses; entire forests fall to the ax. Thus Wyoming cattle, Iowa corn and Wisconsin white pine come together in Chicago. City and countryside develop in tandem. Cronon notes that gateway cities are a peculiar feature of North American frontier settlements and the chief colonizers of the Western landscape. He compares the world of rural merchants in the pre- and post-railroad eras, and cites the McCormack reaper works to illustrate the sale of manufactured goods to the hinterland. The culmination of this dynamic period is in the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Readers interested in the growth of capitalism will find this an engrossing study. Photos. (Apr.)