Tom MacWright

I read The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax on


The Dreamt Land is a book about how people, collectively, have failed to understand nature, have foolishly squandered natural resources, and have screwed each other over. It’s about how ‘family farmers’ end up being anti-environment, anti-immigrant, anti-government, and pro-corruption. How farmers constantly fail to understand and prepare for floods and droughts.

It hurts to read. It sometimes sounds like The Control of Nature, but instead of telling stories about how we tried to control nature and gave up or suceeded, it tells stories about how we’ve propped up unnatural environments with the help of money siphoned from the federal government to farmers, with the help of lobbyists and inside deals.

It makes you confront farmers who enjoy government subsidy and public sympathy but who rail against welfare and knowingly damage the environment in ways that will last for generations.

It connects to Settlers, which made the incredible point that Europeans came to America so that they could be managers, and so that they could have free land. Who we think of as farmers are farm owners: the people who work their land have been Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and now Mexicans with precious immigration status. What we think of as the farmer’s value is actually their landowning, their lobbying, their water rights, their legal standing, and their control of labor.

Arax basically nails it. He doesn’t talk about what he’d do till the very end, and when he does he’s brief and correct. He really interrogates the subject matter and doesn’t let his own feelings dominate. He strikes the right balance between history, biography, and analysis.

If you’re interested in water, farming, or California, read this one.