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National BestsellerWith his uniue blend of intrepidity tongue in cheek humor and wide eyed wonder Ian Frazier takes us on a journey of than 25000 miles up and down and across the vast and myth inspiring Great Plains A travelogue a work of scholarship and a western adventure Great Plains takes us from the site of Sitting Bull's cabin to an abandoned house once terrorized by Bonnie and Clyde to the scene of the murders chronicled in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood It is an expedition that reveals the heart of the American West


10 thoughts on “Great Plains

  1. says:

    “I fear for the Great Plains because many people think they are boring Money and power in this country concentrates elsewhere The view of the Great Plains from an airplane window is hardly detailed than the view from a car on the interstate highways which seem designed to get across in the least time possible as if this were an awkward point in a conversationConvincing someone not to destroy a place that to him seems as unvaried as a TV test pattern is a challenge The beauty of the plains is not just in themselves but in the sky in what you think when you look at them and in what they are not” – Ian Frazier Great PlainsWhat you think when you look at them? First of all I think the Great Plains are ruggedly beautiful but what I primarily think when I look at them is their history That is also one of the things Ian Frazier pondered as he logged 25000 miles over several summers engaging in a deep seated love affair with the regionAs a result we not only get an in depth account of the region’s geography geology sociology meteorology ecology biology economy but also its people both past and present And since he is interested in the history of the Great Plains he never bypasses a museum or a historical roadside marker Ah a kindred spirit; I never pass them up either and have even written some myself Unlike certain travel writers who adopt a condescending attitude toward small towns and their people I’m looking at you Theroux Raban and yes Bryson Frazier likes people not just in general terms he likes them as individuals And he engages themBill Bryson who published his first travel book The Lost Continent in the same year as Frazier’s book made two large loops in the United States one in the west and one in the east and if his account is to be believed talked to hardly anyone But not FrazierHe often picked up hitchhikers and showed interest in their lives and he liked the small towns that he visited and the people who lived there He even asked the names of local high school athletic teams in the small towns where he made stops I first read Frazier’s book in the early 90’s and ever since I also ask someone to tell me the name of the local team That’s how I learned that the name of the Eufaula Oklahoma team is the 'Ironheads' and the Hereford Texas team was the 'Whitefaces' City folks may not know that Hereford cattle have white faces According to legend the Ironheads were named after their coach Harry 'Ironhead' Hansard who coached their football team during the 20’s and 30’sThis too was unlike Bryson whose book subtitled Travels in Small Town America was according to him an effort to find the nation’s perfect small town Of course he didn’t find it Oh he drove through a couple that he thought were okay but not perfect But you see his search was a superficial one As I said he drove through them never taking the time to stop and talk to people He was strictly a windshield explorer“For fantasies the Great Plains are in many respects the perfect place They’re so big that you could never know all there is to know about them – your fantasies could never wear them out” – Ian Frazier Great PlainsFrazier’s book does ramble a bit just like his travels This allows him to integrate historical profiles and vignettes with his contemporary personal travel He is especially interested in Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull but also he uses interludes to profile other prominent historical figures who played a role in the history of the Plains people ranging all the way from George Armstrong Custer to Doc Holliday And by the way a roadside historical marker led to a story about Bonnie and ClydeHere is an example of how Frazier segues the present into the past I turned off at the town of Hague North Dakota It had a Catholic church breathing cool church smell through its open doors a red firehouse a grocery store a grain elevator a big Behlen uonset hut near the railroad tracks a Knights of Columbus hall a bar called Lilt’l Gillys a Coke machine on the sidewalk one story houses with octagon clotheslines and eight or ten rows of corn in the back yards a lawn sprinkler shaped like a little tractor in one front yard a few cars angle parked on the main street and three blond kids bouncing on a mattress in the back of a pickup truck outside the caféHard to believe that one night than sixty years ago during a dance that had turned rowdy someone hit Lawrence Welk over the head with a brick in Hague North DakotaWhat follows is a delightfully informative profile of the bandleader a native of Strasburg a small town located fourteen miles away The rambling aspect is one of the things that I love about the book That’s the way I prefer to travel too And it is easier to do if I am traveling alone which is I hate to say the way I prefer Traveling alone means no negotiation and it allows serendipity rather than a detailed travel plan to dictate where I will go that day and what I will see and where I will spend the night and what historical markers I might happen upon Things that I don’t plan often turn out to be the highlight of my trips Also lowlights; a harrowing lesson I once learned the hard way was to never take a shortcut in the Rockies At the beginning of this review I uoted Frazier’s fear about what might happen to the Great Plains An attempt to extract from the Plains than they could afford to give resulted in an epic environmental disaster known as the Dust Bowl Unfortunately another sin against the environment is currently taking place Frazier is fearful of what coal strip mining is doing to the region in some areas especially in WyomingBy leaving nothing behind but a landscape of trash strip mining insults the future By destroying the physical record and by making the history of white people on the Great Plains look like nothing than the progress of appetite strip mining also insults the past Land that has been strip mined reduces the whole story of the Great Plains to chewed up spit out Today three decades after the publication of Great Plains there is a fight over the construction of a pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Canada through the heart of the Great Plains all the way to the Gulf of Mexico Environmentalists oppose the pipeline and so do the Native people of the region They will receive little or no financial benefit from the pipeline but than that they fear spills that will pollute their land and water They are putting up a bitter fight in opposition to the pipeline But if history is any guide they will lose – again


  2. says:

    This book is like taking the mind on a trip A circuitous 25000 mile drive through the heartland of America The vast semi arid plains of America In the book On the Road to Babadag Travels in the Other Europe by Andrzej StasiukMichael Kandel Translator the author says That's why I rush to make these trips why I'm so avid for details that will soon vanish and need to be re created out of words This is what Frazier accomplish in this book making it a perfect choice for someone who might want to do the same He visits the old and new; the forgotten and the unknown and he touches base with different people from different walks of life to compile this unforgettable experience Ian Frazier takes his reader through the history geology sociology and contemporary reality of this magnificent region of one of the greatest countries in the world Magnificent yes because the environment tells its own stories through dust storms flooding human interventions and probably God's will Other books made me love America even Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon; andA Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins read this one before joining GR so no reviewBoth these books contained a novelistic vibe which I loved Frazier's book is a short 200 pages euivalent to them although a little bit too concentrated on the history of particularly Crazy Horse Fascinating history for sure but too many pages dedicated to one subject in an otherwise riveting travelogue however I thoroughly enjoyed the experience The inclusion of history always adds much spice to the road trip genre Great Plains is not a white knuckle read overall but it does have some hair raising moments such as when he picked up a hitchhiker who incidentally could lead him to the remote place which Sitting Bull called home This is not the kind of history that breeds immediate warmth and trust between peoples In the rearview mirror I looked at my eyes marked by worry and second guessing with little lines like the calibrations on a camera lens Then I looked at Jim Yellow Earring’s eyes—calm bloodshot brown as a deer’s “Keep going I’ll take you right to him” he said The road had now become so deeply rutted that the trick was finding the exact moment to steer from one set of ruts into a new set to the right or left Just as we were about to high center Jim Yellow Earring would yell “My side Come over to this side Okay okay now your side” We often find a small road sign pointing to something insignificant until we realize how the world is contained within it Frazier captured the spirits which will forever populate its history Great Plains was published in 1987 It withstood the test of time splendidly since it is one person's subjective observations of a fascinating region through his own political emotional and jounalistic glasses A wonderful adventure for the curious readerTravel journals can be addictive reading since it is often riveting than reading novels Who can forget The Life of John Ledyard the American Traveller Comprising Selections from His Journals and Correspondence by Jared Sparks John Ledyard John Ledyard set the pace for later travelogues including those of Lewis and ClarkThe Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1814 which probably kick started this road genre; Travels with Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck;Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain 1883The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkmanor the many books of Randall Kenan and Otohiro WatanabeThoroughly enjoyable Ian Frazier is true to this genre “Live your life by a compass not a clock” – Stephen Covey


  3. says:

    “I fear for the Great Plains because many think they are boring” p 91I'll probably like this book than you I salivated over the possibilities of Great Plains after reading the author's Travels in Siberia I went in with high hopes but acknowledge now that twenty one years lapsed between this book and the Russian one and Great Plains as great as it is reads and was the work of a younger and self conscious man Frazier tries to sound cool and detached and drifter y sleeping in his car and picking up Indian hitchhikers He skips many of the cliche visits eg Mt Rush Wall Drugs and focuses on the wide expanses as a construct coloring in the details with well researched historical analysis His notes outlining and explaining his sources are sixty pages long and almost as fun to read as the text they support Frazier stumbles however when he tries to attach great big meaning to environmental concerns and isolated missle silos He's much better focusing on small observations the sound an air conditioning unit makes in said silos and letting the people and places tell their own stories I liked this book better than Travels in Siberia but the latter is a better bookI am defensive of the Great Plains and according to Frazier I don't even live there The central time zones doesn't get the lead in commercials for television shows And the mountain time zone? Do most Americans even know that the mountain time zone exists? People get Nebraska and Kansas confused and only remember the Dakotas because they're two of them Two of my least favorite words in the English language when combined are “flyover country” I'm not going to ask you to like the Great Plains and I'm sure as hell not describing the stretch as some sort of peaceful anti urban paradise But I like knowing the Great Plains are there In a uiet slumbering way I see the Great Plains as giving the finger to both coasts And I love that I love feeling that in the middle of Nebraska we'd all feel a curious mix of boredom and freakout I'm reminded of that scene in Brown Bunny when the main character is driving And driving And drivingYes the Great Plains are boring But I've had interesting experiences there that probably wouldn't happen anywhere else Why do I appreciate Frazier's Great Plains? Three stories1 About a decade back my friend Sean and I drive to the South Dakotan Badlands We walked the castle trail about a ten mile lollipop loop from just short of the gift shop to one of the roads and back Numbered poles lead the way; you look for the next pole across the lunar landscape to stay on trail Sean decides to get high I tell him if he gets busted I'm leaving his ass behind then walk a couple miles ahead of him Later we argue in the car on the way to Rapid City for Mexican food I remember the fight involving birds and Sean claiming the media was “the man” Still later we wait out an apocalyptic storm in a strip mall Borders2 Five years before that my wife and I drive across Kansas on one of the last legs of a six week road trip We stop at a campground in Topeka where I watch baseball's all star game on a black and white television3 Two Badlands trips later less than two years ago my car dies on the side of I 90 about fifteen miles west of Sioux Falls By “dies” I should clarify I don't mean “stops” I mean “pieces of the engine strewn across the shoulder” dies I walk to the next exit You don't notice how much roadkill clutters the side of 90 until you walk it A couple hours later a polite teenager from the auto repair shop where I junked the car waits to make sure the rental works out before he heads home“The beauty of the plains is not just in themselves but in the sky in what you think when you look at them and what they are not”p 92 There are a million books about New York or whatever and I'm ok with that But if you want to catch what driving across the middle of nowhere for eighteen hours might feel like but in good way read Frazier's Great Plains


  4. says:

    This was delightful I am from the Plains Forget my irritation over learning so much about them from someone born east of Chicago living in New Jersey and working in New York City He well earned his spurs by shedding the East Coast bias criss crossing the Plains by car many times over the years and loving them for what they are Some weaknesses in his knowledge base presumably from being an outsider show through For example he mistakes the Eastern boundary of the Plains as about the 100th meridian saying that is approximately where the tall grass gives way to the short grass In fact the tribes who lived there for centuries the people who live there today and not least the buffalo treated the Missouri River as the beginning of the Plains No one or scattered few people living in Oklahoma Kansas Nebraska or the Dakotas think they don't live in the Plains and his line bisects these States Lengthy descriptions of the tribes notably the tragic betrayal and death of Crazy Horse who the author properly accords heroic status the climate the topography and many current residents and their attitudes bring justice to the beauty and history of what is after all the heart of America


  5. says:

    This was a breezy sweeping crash course on America's Great Plains and much of the West; eual parts travelogue and history with a vividly conveyed sense of place spiced with historical tidbits and humorously imparted facts of the weird It's kind of like a bunch of digestible NPR commentaries strung together Frazier does it with ease and not in any particular order somehow running the gamut from Sitting Bull and Bonnie Clyde to Lawrence Welk; from arrowheads to barbed wire; from Mennonites to MX missiles; from the Ice Age to the Dust Bowl He encounters flavorful colorful characters along the roads of his journeys I learned a lot about an amazing array of subjects by reading this Chapter 6 is a moving tribute to Chief Crazy HorseWhat most people see when they see the Plains is nothingness In fact the first geographers who mapped it called it the Great American Desert even though desert it is not But that attitude still remains as Frasier notes in a section about strip mining of the plains He worries that people won't care if something so seemingly boring would be destroyed He writesI fear for the Great Plains because many people think they are boring Money and power in this country concentrate elsewhere The view of the Great Plains from an airplane window is hardly detailed than the view from a car on the interstate highways which seem designed to get across in the least time possible as if this were an awkward point in the conversation In the minds of many natural beauty means something that looks like Switzerland The ecology movement often works best in behalf of winsome landscapes and wildlife The Great Plains do not ingratiate They seldom photograph well — or rather they are seldom photographed Images of the plains are not a popular feature of postcards or scenic calendarsWhile this book is not a definitive history it is an excellent primer letting the reader nibble at tasty tidbits without becoming bogged down I felt that my knowledge of the West grew several fold from reading this I really enjoyed this and recommend it to everyone


  6. says:

    Page 214 Now when I have trouble getting to sleep I sometimes imagine that my bed is on the back of a flatbed pickup truck driving across the Great Plains I ignore the shouts on the sidewalk and the bass vibnrations from the reggae club across the street The back of this truck has sides but no top I can see the stars The air is cool The truck will go nonstop for nine hours through the night At first the road is as straight as a laser State Highway 8 in North Dakota say where nothing seems to move except the wheels under me and the smell of run over skunks fading in and out in my nose Then the road twists to follow a river valley and cottonwood leaves pass above and someone has been cutting hay and the air is like the inside of a spice cabinet Then suddenly the wheels rumble on the wooden planks of a one lane bridge across the River That Scolds at All the Others Ever since the Great Plains were first called a desert people have gone a long way toward turning them into one The Great Plains which I cross in my sleep are bigger than any name people give them They are enormous bountiful unfenced empty of buildings full of names and stories They extend beyond the frame of the photograph Their hills are hipped like a woman asleep under a sheet Their rivers rhyme Their rows of grain strum past Their draws hold springwater and wood and game and grass like sugar in the hollow of a hand They are the place where Crazy Horse will always remain uncaptured They are the lodge of Crazy Horse


  7. says:

    Great Plains is a cross between Kathleen Norris' Dakota and William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways It's a road book about the high plains that semi arid often treeless region covering 10 states lying between the Rockies and the Mid West Rather than a day by day log of a single journey it is an account of many trips as its author criss crosses the terrain jumping from place to place and from one historical period to another When you are done you have a sense of a vast land and a great 200 year swath of historyFragments of times and places that we may know from movies and text books come together in a sweeping tapestry containing Indian tribes buffalo herds cattle drives railroads homesteaders droughts blizzards grasshoppers long rivers sand hills badlands small pox epidemics black settlers missile silos strip mining the Dust Bowl the Ogalala auifer Crazy Horse Sitting Bull Custer Bonnie and Clyde and the experience of driving a van along straight empty highways in all weather picking up hitchhikers sleeping overnight by the road and stopping to talk to ordinary people living extraordinary lives in a depopulated landscape most travelers know only as flyover that featureless land seen from above between East and West CoastsIt's a great enjoyable read that meanders over its subject sometimes with a sense of wonder sadness amusement and even at a fashion show in Nicodemus Kansas unadulterated joy


  8. says:

    I should probably add a 'shelf' to my profile on here called 'Great Plains' There's been uite a bit of Stegner going on over here and now this I think it feeds some sort of nostalgiafor a place I've never actually lived I'm a city boy and can't claim the tiniest bit of even ironrange cred let alone plains cred I was disappointed to find out from this book that Minnesota isn't even officially included in the enormous region known as the Great Plains Too many lakes to ualify But when I read anything that glorifies this region of the planet and its history as they all must obviouslyname one thing to denigrate Indian genocide? Duh So tell the story from the hopeless and desperate but valorous point of view of the Indians themselves I feel an absurd pride and sense of identification I totally don't deserve it Maybe I can admit it's vicarious; I just like it when smart sensitive people elouently stick up for a region which in the grand scheme of american 'culture' is actually denigrated or at best ignored 99% of the timePlus there was a scene in here the rapturous joy of which Frazier so languidly unrolled had he been hasty forget it that it had me getting gooey at my kitchen table Without that it would have been a fun and informative history book worthy of a positive rating but with it it became for me one of this year's best reads


  9. says:

    I've lost count of how many times I've read this book but I just read it in preparation for a trip to the Great Plains And it's still one of my favorite books Frazier's not a stylist or a cloying writer who uses irony to skewer everything; he's just a good writer with a sense of humor a sense of wonder and a sense of adventure The book is history at its most enthusiastic sincere brimming with life and appreciative of the chance encounters that define and enliven travel Most importantly the book evokes the expansiveness of the plains and the joy one might find there


  10. says:

    This is the best book I have read in years and I read a uite few books Great writing wonderful research interesting stories and facts and faces about a huge area of this continent that most write off as boring or tedious It’s anything but that and this gent knows how to relate wonderful stories based on really solid research and personal experience He makes seemingly mundane things interesting Ian Frazier paints a beautiful picture of the Plains that warms the heart and challenges the mind Great figures of our western history are humanized and properly honored It’s the first book in my memory that I didn’t want to end The Notes in the back are almost as interesting as the book but not uite Oh If you want to learn how to write well read this guy