The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution

Stephen Heyman. Norton, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-324-00189-8
Louis Bromfield (1896–1956), an all-but-forgotten Lost Generation writer, gets a reassessment, more for his agricultural than his artistic legacy, from first-time author Heyman in this diverting, though at times superficial, biography. The book traces Bromfield’s unlikely career arc, showing how he parlayed his success as a bestselling and award-winning novelist who happened to have a knack for gardening into a full-throated agricultural innovator and reformer by the early 1940s, raising early alarms about the use of chemical pesticides and the environmental sustainability of farming practices. Heyman gives generous coverage to Bromfield’s reputation as a bon vivant, bolstered by his friendships with a diverse array of cultural heavyweights, from Edith Wharton, who exchanged gardening tips with him, to Humphrey Bogart, whose wedding to Lauren Bacall was held on Bromfield’s farm in Ohio. Finding much greater value in Bromfield’s agricultural writing than in his fiction (“Yes, it was overdone. Yes, it was overly romantic. It was, after all, a Louis Bromfield novel”), Heyman suggests that the former significantly influenced such modern environmental activists as Wendell Berry, but his discussion of Bromfield’s specific ideas are lacking. As a result, personality outweighs analysis in this portrait of Bromfield, but his colorful life makes for diverting reading. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 11/22/2019
Release date: 04/14/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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