natures metropolis chicago and the great west

Thus it was that environmental historians Richard White and Samuel Hays could refer to the book as "extraordinary" and as "innovating and. Samuel P. Hays; Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. By William Cronon. (New York: Norton, 1991. xxiv + 530 pp. $27.50.). which is the whole point of William Cronon's masterly study of Chicago Nature's Metropolis, Chicago and the Great West, fixes the fulcrum of energy flow.

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Nature's Metropolis

Good book, dire narrator

This classic, important book of environmental history is excellent and rewarding every time I read it, and doesn't suffer as an audiobook for lack of illustrations. The book reads very well even without seeing the charts. The complex accounting of the development of Chicago and its hinterland makes for a very engaging listen.

However, this particular reader strongly detracts from the text. Words are frequently mispronounced (if I hear potah-wah-tomeee one more time..) making obvious and distracting breaks from believing our narrator knows what he's talking about. An attempt at adding character has him putting on very poor and distracting accents when reading quotations. I also particularly did not enjoy the cadence of the reading, though I understand that is subjective.

Lovely book, I strongly suggest people read it in their lives, but maybe let Professor Cronon's own voice read in your own mind rather than get the audiobook.


Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon


First nature = original, prehuman nature

Second nature = the artificial nature that people erect atop first nature pg xix


  • “If that wall was more a habit of thought than a fact of nature, then decrying the “unnaturalness” of city life in a place like Chicago was merely one more way of doing what my own environmental ethic told me to oppose: isolating human life from the ecosystems that sustain it.” (8)
    • I’ve always had this dilemma too! What exactly is natural? How do we define what is natural? The wall he refers to as the divide between country and city is one that is seemingly then made up! It was a mentally created one, not physical.
  • “But such freedom was also a kind of prison, a retreat from the sources of value that gave human life a large meaning: closeness to neighbors, a sense of rootedness in the soil, a feeling of belonging, faith in something larger than the self or the merely human. In the city, even amid all the crowds and the human artifacts, one stood curiously alone.” (16)
    • Cronon talks about the freedom given by the city. But also when in nature, I also feel this larger than human life meaning. When I feel a breeze, I feel this largeness. In some senses, a city is both liberating and a prison of sorts. Simultaneity.
  • “pastoral simplicity to cosmopolitan sophistication, from rural bondage to urban freedom, from purity to corruption, from childhood to adulthood, from past to future.” (17)
    • Interesting question to ask, how would you map the journeys in your life?
      • Mine: from suburban unknowing to worldly seeing, from purity to retaining to self, from selfishness to appreciation and gratitude, from me to others, and from past self to present self.
    • “The urban-rural, human-natural dichotomy blinds us to the deeper unity beneath our own divided perceptions. If we concentrate our attention solely upon the city, seeing in it the ultimate symbol of “man’s” conquest of “nature,” we miss the extent to which the city’s inhabitants continue to rely as much as on the nonhuman world as they do on each other.” (18)
      • The dichotomy is an example of dualistic thinking. Nothing is ever dualistic, yes or no, true or false. We are all a blend of dichotomies, a merging of stories, experiences, and complexities. The human-natural dichotomy is no exception.
      • Growing up, I don’t think I ever deeply thought much about our reliance on the natural world. I remember having thoughts that all our things come from farmers, but they get paid so little! Why is that so? And then my reality of living with food on the table, it coming from the supermarket masked deeper questioning.
    • “flight from “the city” creates “the wild” as its symbolic opposite” (19)
    • Architect Anne Sprin: “The city is a granite garden, composed of many smaller gardens, set in a garden world…. The city is part of nature.” (19)
      • A different way of seeing.

Chapter 1: Dreaming the Metropolis

  • Potawatomis! On pg 27
  • The Frederick Jackson Turner frontier thesis:
    • “The frontier begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on to tell of the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader, the pathfinder of civilization; we read the annals of the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farming communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with city and factory system.”
  • “He who is the Author of Nature, selected the site of this great city … and hence her future will not be subject to those causes which have paralyzed or destroyed many of the cities of past ages.” – Newspaper editor William Bross in 1880
    • Gross sense of human exceptionalism
  • “city’s growth… ordained by God”
  • “region’s natural endowments were proof that God had “diversified” the land’s “surface with hills, vales, and plains, and clothed them alternately with fine groves of timber, and beautiful meadows of grass flowers.” (36)
    • . poetic description but wholly utilitarian
  • “Cities were the stars around which town and country satellites would come to orbit.” (39)
  • “linking new communities to the emerging metropolis” (39)
    • The actual focus of expansion for boosters.
  • “In ancient times all roads led to Rome; in modern times all roads lead to Chicago.”
  • “William Gilpin could thus wax eloquent on behalf of America’s various “empires” – “the empire of our continental geography,” “the empire of our free peope,” the empires …” (44)
    • Reclamation of the word empire
  • “Perceiving America as a commercial empire allowed boosters and others to believe that the flow of “tribute” among its various parts enriched all and impoverished none.” (45)
    • Justification!
      • “Although the countryside .. paid tribute … the exchange was anything by a zero-sum game.”
    • “Because Chicago is sure of being chiefest, it isher interest and ambition that her own section should have several chief cities.” (45)
      • Now this is interesting!!! Why did they attribute the city as being female? Why her? It’s almost as if there is this sense of respect, but also ownership and control. Reminds me a lot about gender inequality and dynamics!!
    • “the more you prosper, the more you all will contribute to the wealth and the prosperity of Chicago.” (45)
      • All the cities growing together mentality.
    • Page 49 is Von Thunen’s Isolated State (the circles idea)
    • “Where human beings organize their economy around market exchange, trade between city and country will be among the most powerful forces influencing cultural geography and environmental change.” (50)
      • Market forces and how we live is what shape our landscape. But we live in very different times now. How are things different now? How, specifically, is our modern market forces influencing our cultural geography and environmental change?
    • Turner said in his frontier thesis: the frontier as “the outer edge of the wave”. Unintentionally though it became “the extension of market relations into the ways human beings used land – and each other – in the Great West.” (53)
    • Potawatomis!
      • They “did not dream of how a hinterland territory could pay tribute to an imperial city” (53)
    • “The United States are primarily a commercial society…and only secondarily a nation…” – 19th century French political scientist Emile Boutmy (53)

Chapter 2: Rails and Water

  • “extending from it like the spokes of a great wheel and dividing the region into a series of pie shaped wedges” (68)
    • What a graphic! This is a good way of putting Chicago’s railroad influence and reach.
  • “East saw their own interests converging with Chicago’s” (70)
    • All about converging of interests
  • “The lake, the harbor, the river, and the canal might by themselves have made Chicago the most important city in Northern Illinois, but they would never have made it the interior metropolis of the continent.” (70)
  • “assimilated the railroad”…”merging first and second nature so that the two became almost indistinguishable.” (72)
    • Booster rhetoric that railroad and locations were natural! Thus the pre-human and human dichotomy is entirely blurred.
  • People “never paused to explain how so “natural” a route could be constructed from rails…Instead …less an artificial invention than as a … geographical power..that people must shape their lives according to its dictates” (72)
    • What I find interesting is that people welcomed this new invention openly. New technology reshaping. The railroads solved a LOT of problems like transportation, it made things a lot more convenient, work was able to be conducted year round, everything as we know it today was a result of this pivotal step. But it also came with the transformation of the hinterlands. A deep and insightful question would be, how can we improve the world, provide technology that, yes, does solve an actual need or desire, but at the same time, be sustainable and positive to environment and social institutions?
  • Page 76 – the page the blew my mind!
    • “for no earlier form of transportation had ever moved people so quickly”
    • Telegraph + railroads: “together they shrank the whole perceptual universe of North America. Because people experience distance more in hours than in miles.”
    • Farmers “no longer thought it worth their while to spend a week or more driving a team of horses over bad roads to sell their crops in Chicago”
      • A whole shift in lifestyle! It enables so much! Displacement of technology
    • “In 1860, Chicago received almost a hundred times more wheat by rail than by wagon; ten years later, no one even bothered to keep statistics on the latter.”
      • This is a radical and shifting transformation.
    • Page 78 and 79 also
      • With ships and their delays, “one could not place a very high value on one’s own time.”
      • “Time does not yet seem to enter as an element into Western thought. It answers about as well to do a thing next week as this; to wait a day or two for a boat, as to meet it at the hour appointed; and so on through all the details of life.”
      • Train services measured in days vs weeks
      • “The long term consequence was to move timekeeping into the realm of the mechanical clock, away from the various natural cycles which had formerly marked the flow of time.” (78)
        • Stark contrast with the sun at the highest point
          • Page 79!! “Noon was the moment when the sun stood highest in the midday sky.” Different everywhere.
        • “the safety and clockwork regularity of an artificial universe”
        • 1883 marked the creation of “four time zones” thus breaking the connection with the sun
      • “”managers, engineers, and accountants whose emerging professional skills became essential to the system as a whole” (81)
        • Data processing was direly needed and necessary for the vast amount of data to be processed.
        • Almost like an origin of a larger economy and proliferation of professional jobs.
      • “The railroad thus became the chief device for introducing a new capitalist logic to the geography of the Great West.” (81)

Chapter 3: Grain

  • “Farmers bartered their produce because they were cash poor. In an economy short of cash, where credit was essential to making exchange possible, merchants served as translators between the world of rural barter and the world of urban money.” (105)
    • Pg 104 has a description of the role of storekeepers
      • Their job was quite expansive and hard
      • I found these two descriptions of life back then interesting because it’s so different than now, but was very much so life back then
    • “Crops from dozens of different farms could then mingle” (114)
      • Mixing of grain to create homogeneous commodity. That’s how I grew up, the food I ate. Farmers market is different though.
      • Leads to quality differences. A lot of story behind how our products come to market and its historic development
    • “The elevator helped turn grain into capital by obscuring and distancing its link with physical nature.” (120)
    • “The wider the telegraph’s net became, the more it unified previously isolated economies. The result was a new market geography that had less to do with the soils or climate of a given locality than with the prices and information flows of the economy as a whole.” (121)
      • Telegraph helped bind these geographically disparate regions together. Now, we see this on a globalized scale. The effects?
    • Speculation explained on page 125
      • “simply exchanging the difference between the grain’s contracted price and its market price when contract expired”
      • Leads to: “transactions without any grain ever changing hands”
      • I found this just so interesting, this shift from physically selling, trading, bartering, to this economy so disconnected from the producer, elevated to the abstraction of speculation and settling contractual differences!
    • “Corners, in short, seemed to call into question the legitimacy of the entire futures market.” (131)
      • Deviation from intention and human nature.
    • Big picture view: “Corners were an almost inevitable result not just of the futures contract but of grain grading and elevators as well; all three derived from the same artificial partitioning of the economic landscape, the same second nature.” (132)
    • “Hostility … toward Chicago’s grain trade in general, flowered from rural suspicions that there was something not quite real – something false, something dishonest – about its markets.” (144)
      • This hostility still exists today. In their days, it was because the farmers did not know how the whole system worked.
      • Furthermore grain was redefined: “abstracting and simplifying it to facilitate its movement not as a physical object but as a commodity. The trading of grain as a commodity was what made Chicago’s market seem unreal to those who stood outside it.” (145)
        • The root of it, no longer simple physical transactions
      • “Wheat and corn came to Chicago from farms that were themselves radical simplifications of the grassland ecosystem” (145)
        • If we thought the commodities were simplifications, so were the farms that produced it! The backdrop then to all of this is our natural landscape!! Second nature is created and shrouds, and erodes first nature.
      • “the linkage between a farm’s products and its property rights came to seem worse than useless to the grain traders of Chicago” (145)
        • Local movement, in many ways, resemble this.
      • “to understand wheat or corn in the vocabulary of bulls, bears, corners, grades, and futures meant seeing grain as a commodity, not as a living organism planted and harvested by farmers as a crop for people to mill into flour, bake into bread, and eat.” (146)
        • Today, the bulls, bears, corners, etc are corporations. Only wheat and corn is talked about here. But this could probably be applied to a whole host of our agricultural products.

Chapter 4: Lumber

  • “Unexploited natural abundance was the central meaning of Turner’s frontier… The exploitation of nature came first (before people). “ (150)
  • Abstract and big picture view of the world on bottom of page 150.
  • “Few things more worried lumber operators than how much snow the winter would bring.”
    • Ultimately bounded by nature
  • Hire “good men and good Families without Children” (164)
    • Already this sense of unhuman expectations of human experience
  • “The Chicago wholesale yards were thus a long way – in thought as much as in space – from the forests that had been cut down to supply them.” (177)
    • This concept of distance being created can be traced throughout this book.
  • In the 1860’s, “Nebraskans and Kansans were buying much of their lumber from Chicago and the city’s wood was framing buildings as far away as Colorado and Wyoming.” (181)
    • This is starting to make sense to why food travels so far. Distribution centers like Chicago make things more efficient.
  • Trains had to return, so westbound lumber rates moved cheaper. Pg 181
  • “railroads made Chicago, a city located in one of the nation’s most treeless landscapes, the greatest lumber center in the world” (183)
    • Well, isn’t that something!
  • “Few had ever seen those forests, and fewer still had seen what those forests were becoming as the ax wielders continued their relentless work on behalf of Chicago’s merchants and customers.” (183)
    • Concept of “Distance” yet again, created.
  • “The very success of Chicago in dominating the regional lumber trade was among the most important factors contributing to its decline.” (184)
    • Seeing this again and again.

Chapter 5: Meat

  • “The cowboy was the agent who tied von Thunen’s livestock-raising zone to its metropolitan market.” (219)
    • Honestly, I never knew what a cowboy did. I always thought they were cool explorers of West and South. Now the name cowboy makes sense.
  • “invading Canadian thistle, expanded their range in intensively grazed areas.” (220)
    • This is how landscapes are shaped.
  • “the more you cut, the more you sell” (237)
    • Dressed meat is what we see today. This development was fascinating.
    • Consumer psychology.
  • “What seemed artificial and abnormal at the end of the 19th century would look conventional in the twentieth.” (247)
  • “The packers could claim more direct responsibility for severing the natural relationship between death and decay.” (248)
  • “To separate an animal’s death from the decay that ordinarily followed hard upon it, they had harvested the winter’s cold and suspended the wheel of the seasons.” (248)
  • “Its ties to the earth receded, and in forgetting the animal’s life one also forgot the grasses and the prairie skies and the departed bison herds of a landscape that seemed more and more remote in space and time. The grasslands were so distant from the lives of those who bought what the packers sold that one hardly thought of the prairie or the plains while making one’s purchase, any more than one thought about Packingtown, with its Bubbly Creek and its stinking air. Meat was a neatly wrapped package one bought at the market. Nature did not have much to do with it.” (257)
    • This quote captures so much for me. I’m looking outside my window right now and I see tall grasses. Nature is all around us to the eye of the beholder. But oh, how everything has changed! We were born into this world, a world distanced from itself, from nature.
  • “The whole point of corporate meat-packing had been to systematize the market in animal flesh – to liberate it from nature and geography.” (259)
    • Another sense of distancing.
    • The thing is, they did consciously know they were doing this? I have a feeling they didn’t, that what they were doing was right.. and only in hindsight…

Chapter 6: The Gateway City

  • “tendency of human settlements to organize themselves into hierarchies” (279)
  • “The number and quality of such institutions (professional orchestras, theaters, libraries, art galleries, etc.) that a community could sustain related directly to its rank in the urban hierarchy.” (281)
    • All about what a place can supply: high ranking economics goods and services.
    • .
  • “A Chicagoan could often do a greater volume of business with the same amount of money than a person in the same line of trade lower down the urban hierarchy.” (294)
    • Setting up shop faced greater competition, but allowed for a faster overturn and cycling of capital.
    • Different than the storekeeper we read at the beginning who had all his interests tied in commodities.
  • In talking about St. Louis: “The city always has been and must necessarily remain dependent upon her rivers for the bulk of her trade.” (299)
  • “No matter where in the country tey were located, banks low in the 19th century urban hierarchy had to establish “correspondent” relations with larger metropolitan banks in order to redeem banknotes, etc..”
    • This is how centers are created.

Chapter 7: The Busy Hive

  • On page 310, imagine doing one of those descriptions of where everything comes from for all the items and furniture in your house!
  • “Winter locked up capital” (321)
    • Life backed in the 1860’s
  • Railraods allowed merchants to travel to the city once or twice or month, refilling their shelves and allowing them to cycle “capital more quickly instead of typing up $10,000 in merchandise for six months or a year, once could turn over $1000 ten times in the same period” (325)
  • This concept of escaping into “pastoral suburbs and parks.” (in the picture section: Scene in Jefferson Park)
    • Why is it that we do this? Truly a phenomenon, urban parks, the whole of it! But Cronon explains this: it offers “all the comforts and amenities of urban life in a beautiful rural setting.”
      • We want the freedom of the city (no longer tied to the hard land), but also the “sources of value that gave human life a large meaning: closeness to neighbors, a sense of rootedness in the soil, a feeling of belonging, faith in something larger than the self or the merely human.” (page 16)
      • Us humans!
    • “Ward’s money-back guarantee was a new institutionalized basis for long-distance transactions, in which cash payments and direct inspection took the place of personal acquaintances and credit.” (336)
      • Shift in how business is conducted. Just look at internet stores, Amazon, eBay, the whole lot of it.
    • “Mail order catalogs brought city and country together by affording their readers at least a fantasy glimpse of what civilized life was life” (338)
    • Page 339 was groundbreaking for me
      • “All were about buying and selling, about city and country confronting one another to discover their common ground in the marketplace. All were about capital, which was itself not a thing but a relationship. The geography of capital was about connecting people to make new markets and remake old landscapes.”
        • What the warehouses was really about.
        • Moreso, this is still relevant for today.
      • The mail order catalog … “offered its readers a map of capital, of second nature. In its pages, these relationships all came together.”
        • I mean, just browsing through the catalogues of Amazon, we are walking down the lane of 21st century America, of the unimaginable and scale of operations that makes up each and every commodity item. Electronics, clothes, shoes. Each and every material. How we have evolved into such such such complexity and scale. The maps of capital, of second nature in 1890 is so different than today…
      • “The most remarkable thing about the catalog, like capital itself, is how thoroughly it obscures these relationships.”
      • “There was no need to wonder where such things came from – how they had been created, by whom, from what materials, with what consequences for the place in which they had been made – for the answer to that question stopped at the busy hive.”
        • This has helped understand this whole phenomena of materialism
      • One could make purchases “without reflecting upon the web of economic and ecological connections that stretched out in all directions from oneself and the busy hive.” (340).
      • “The more concentrated the city’s markets became, and the more extensive its hinterland, the easier it was to forget the ultimate origins of the things it bought and sold. The ecological place of production grew ever more remote from the economic point of consumption, making it harder and harder to keep track of the true costs and consequences of any particular product.” (340)
        • Now instead of products, lets think of oil, coal… This statement then rights true..
        • Another example of “distancing”
      • Hive and catalog became two different things, but actually, were “different sides of the same coin” (340)
        • This is Cronon’s point. That everything is connected to nature. But there are a lot of obstructions, all this distancing caused the concentrated markets, the catalogues, the ease of purchase, the credit, the artificial worlds created by the security and stability of the railroads, the detachment from the natural cycles of our world (the winter, noon).

Chapter 8: White City Pilgrimage

  • “A suburb was a place of trees, lawns, winding lanes, and comfortable houses.” (347)
    • Urban comforts combined with rural amenities; the rural amenities being the things that give life larger meaning.
    • I exactly grew up in suburbs, perhaps that is why I’ve always had this connection and longing, a sense of attachment to our natural world..
  • “Explanation for the failure of Grange cooperatives” lay in the Grangers not understanding the central place hierarchy and “the distribution networks that went with it.” (363)
    • Everything evolves for a reason.. but doesn’t mean it is necessarily good, only that it solves the problems at that specific time
  • William T. Stead writes in 1894 for his attack on urban life, “The healthy natural community is that of a small country town or village in which everyone knows his neighbor, and where all the necessary ingredients for a happy, intelligent, and public spirited municipal life exist in due proportion.”
    • “If the city was to locate its civic heart, it would first have to recover its rural roots.” (367)
    • This is interesting, because here in Europe, a sense of community is important in many countries. Ahh, this is interesting to think about.


  • Leopold’s quote on pg 371 is a keeper
    • “land as a community” “biotic interactions between people and land”
  • “If the railroad was a force for centralization, the diesel truck and the automobile would be forces for decentralization.” (375)
  • “tallgrass prairie, white pine forest, and shortgrass bison range as past places no longer a part of living memory. But before these things disappeared, they created a good share of the world we inhabit today.” (379)
    • Part of and a large part of the story behind our society today.
  • “delightful prelude to a meal of steaming golden ears that had been picked just an hour or two before.” (379)
    • That would be so satisfying!
  • “The pastoral retreat in its mythic form is a story in which someone becomes oppressed by the dehumanized ugliness of urban life and so seeks escape in a middle landscape tha is halfway between the wild and the urban.” (380)
    • Half way through! We can never completely leave it behind. Our worlds have become so intertwined.
  • “How a city’s life and markets connect to the countryside around it – can be asked of every urban place that has ever existed.” (384)
    • What a fascinating question.
  • “It turns out that green lake and the orange cloud had more in common than I thought.” (385)
    • We’ve entered this world where both worlds are so finely interwoven (the natural and the artificial), that to understand it all, is to understand that we are not separate from nature, and that we are ever so more intimately so, connected to it.

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natures metropolis chicago and the great west

Nature's Metropolis

Chicago and the Great West

William Cronon


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A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and Winner of the Bancroft Prize. "No one has written a better book about a city…Nature's Metropolis is elegant testimony to the proposition that economic, urban, environmental, and business history can be as graceful, powerful, and fascinating as a novel." —Kenneth T. Jackson, Boston Globe

In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and transformed American culture. The world that emerged is our own.

Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize

Praise For Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

This book is the story of Chicago's progress in the 19th century, the rough seduction of the hinterland, and how at its zenith the city ruled the commercial life of a vast inland region more completely and ruthlessly and profitably than any czar ruled Russia…A marvelous book.
— Ward Just - Chicago Tribune

Thoroughly original…Illuminating…Brilliant.
— Donald L. Miller - New York Times Book Review

No one has ever written a better book about a city…No one has written about Chicago with more power, clarity and intelligence than Cronon.
— Kenneth T. Jackson - Boston Globe

An intoxicating piece of scholarship and enterprise…It is really a work of biography: a look at the life of Chicago.
— David Shribman - Wall Street Journal

Nature's Metropolis is that rare historical work which treats nature and the moral force we derive from it seriously…The roots of the modern environmental predicament are plainly visible in the economic dynamism that brought about the rise of Chicago in the natures metropolis chicago and the great west century, which is a captivating story in its own right.

— Verlyn Klinkenborg - The New Yorker

Magnificent…the best work of economic and business history I've ever read.
— Paul Krugman

William Cronon challenges many of the conventions of both urban and western history in this pathbreaking book, and does so with unusual intelligence and elegance. More important, he helps lay the groundwork for a vital new field of scholarship: the history of the natural environment and its relationship to human society.
— Alan Brinkley, Columbia University

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393308730, 592pp.

Publication Date: May 17, 1992

About the Author

William Cronon is Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Review: "Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West"

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian History.


Throughout William Cronon’s book, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, the author traces the development and progress of Chicago’s urban landscape during the nineteenth-century. Through an extensive examination of the city’s growth during this time period, Cronon asserts that a fundamental relationship between both the rural and urban elements of American society can be deciphered that help explain the development of both the Western frontier as well as central metropolises, such as Chicago. Countering the arguments made by historian, Frederick Jackson Turner – who argued in the late nineteenth-century that America’s frontier existed independently from the urban sector – Cronon interjects his own historiographical interpretation which argues that neither the city nor the frontier was capable of growing or existing on its own, individually (Cronon, 18). Instead, Cronon argues that both the countryside and cities of America formed a symbiotic relationship that provided for one another’s needs. Using Chicago as his focal point for this assertion, Cronon’s book points out that metropolis areas provided large markets for commodities to be sold from the countryside which, in turn, were supplied by the city’s hinterlands. These regions, which existed outside of cities, consisted of not only farms, but middle-to-small sized towns as well. Chicago, he argues, was afforded a great opportunity to expand to epic proportions due to the abundance of resources funneled into its interior by these regions. As Chicago grew from its hinterlands, however, Cronon argues that its expansion allowed for substantial growth of the frontier as well, due to the strong economic benefits that the West was able to garner from Chicago’s large markets, as well as technological and transportation-relation innovations provided by the city. Without one another, Cronon argues that neither could have existed. As he states: “The two [frontier and city] can exist only in each other’s presence.their isolation is an illusion…they need each other, just as they need the larger natural world which sustains them both (Cronon, 18).

Main Points and Features

In his analysis of Chicago’s economy natures metropolis chicago and the great west a detailed explanation of its grain marketing, lumber and meat production, canals, harbors, and railroads), Cronon effectively demonstrates how Chicago came to serve as a gateway to the West, and showcases how its economic influence managed to reach the deepest corners of the American frontier by the end of the nineteenth-century. In doing so, he argues that Chicago helped shape smaller frontier cities and towns that depended on its capital, transportation, and resource flows for sustainability. Cronon’s work is well-argued, and relies heavily upon a wide array of primary documents, including: memoirs, diaries, account books from businesses and individuals, bankruptcy records, letters, invoices, government documents, contracts, and credit reports. This, in turn, adds a high-level of veracity and support for his overall argument as he also draws from an impressive array of periodicals, newspapers, articles, dissertations and secondary resources as well. Cronon’s interpretation is largely innovative and unique for its time, and offers a strong counter to the work of Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis,” while also building on the work of Johann Heinrich von Thunen and his “central place theory” by rejecting his centralized view of metropolises and their overall development.

In natures metropolis chicago and the great west to positive aspects of this work, Cronon’s ingenious use of bankruptcy records (to map out the dispersal of capital from Chicago into its hinterlands) is a particularly interesting aspect of his book. The incorporation of these primary documents demonstrate how a seemingly unimportant and neglected body of sources can, in turn, be instrumental in understanding the lives, patterns, and conditions of the past (Cronon, 272). Aside from his clever use of sources, however, the only negative aspect of Cronon’s work deals with his lack of detail regarding the influence of the Civil War on Chicago’s development. Perhaps due to his focus on the environment and economy, Cronon only devotes a few passages to the war’s overall impact on the North and Chicago. In addition, Cronon does not adequately define the dichotomy between “first” and “second” nature in an explicit manner either (Cronon, 267). Although neither of these are harmful to natures metropolis chicago and the great west overall thesis, a more detailed account of the Civil War’s impact and an explanation of this dichotomy would have been a nice addition to his book.

Final Thoughts

William Cronon’s book, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, offers both an intriguing and compelling account of the growth of Chicago and its Western hinterlands during the nineteenth-century. Throughout citibank credit card pin generation online work, I was highly impressed with Cronon’s overall argument as well as his ability to provide a comprehensive account of Chicago’s growth in a manner that was both focused and thorough. I was also impressed with Cronon’s ability to synthesize his sources in a narrative-driven manner that appeals to not only a scholarly audience, but the general public as well. This was particularly important for someone such as me, who has had little experience with reading urban and environmental histories until now. As such, the story-driven manner in which Cronon explained Chicago’s progress was both engaging and highly appealing to me. Moreover, I was deeply impressed with the fact that none of Cronon’s pages seem to diverge from his main argument, as each sentence and paragraph seems to serve a unique purpose in moving his thesis along. Cronon’s organization of the book is also cleverly done, as he focuses each chapter and section on particular aspects of Chicago’s expansion to “metropolis” status, rather than following a chronological timeline as most historical works do. His lengthy discussion on each phase of the city’s development is a testament to the vast research that was required to substantiate each of his claims. This, in turn, gives Cronon’s work a scholarly feel that significantly enhances the natures metropolis chicago and the great west of his overall argument.

Overall, I give this book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in an urban and environmental history of Chicago and the expansion of the Great West.

Questions for Further Discussion

1.) Did you find the argument/thesis of this book to be compelling? Why or why not?

2.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and non-academics, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?

3.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? Can you identify any areas that could have potentially been improved by the author?

4.) What did you learn as a result of reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts presented by Cronon?

5.) What sort of primary source material does the author rely on? Does this reliance help or hurt his overall argument?

6.) After reading this work, would you be willing to recommend this book to a friend or family member?

7.) Did you natures metropolis chicago and the great west this work to be engaging? Why or why not?

8.) What type of scholarship does Cronon's work build upon?

Works Cited

Cronon, William. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.


Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991)

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by William Cronon


In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century Fort financial credit union routing number. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and transformed American culture. The world that emerged is our own. Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize… (more)

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In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America's most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past. This is the story of city and country becoming ever more tightly bound in a system so powerful that it reshaped the American landscape and natures metropolis chicago and the great west American culture. The world that emerged is our own. Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize

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.::Web Project Bibliography::.


Ives C. Halsey. " The Dream City: A portfolio of Photographic Views of the Natures metropolis chicago and the great west Columbian Exposition" Chief of the Department of Fine Arts. St. Louis Missouri : N D Thompson Publishing Co. This is a collection of articles and photographs related to the design of this fair. It also has an extensive history of world expositions up to that time. A Historical and descriptive presentation of the world's Science, art, and industry, as viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.


Cronon, William. "Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West" (NY: W.W. Norton, 1991): 346; This looks at the planning and design of the attractions and exhibits at the fair. This book was apparently commissioned by The Exposition and is mainly a picture book of the fair.


Bolotin, Norman and Laing, Christine. "The Chicago World's Fair of 1893: The World's Columbian Exposition" (Washington, D.C: The Preservation Press, 1992): 2. This looks at the planning and design of the attractions and exhibits at the fair. It also discusses the fair's impact on society and the city of Chicago.

Walton, Natures metropolis chicago and the great west. "Art and Architecture"[Columbus Edition]. Philadelphia : G. Barrie, 1893. 10 v. ill., map, fronts. 49 cm. At head of title: World's Columbian Exposition an historical and descriptive presentation of the world's science, art, and industry, as viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, designed to set forth the display made by the Congress of Nations, of human achievement in material form, so as to more effectually to illustrate the profess of mankind in all the departments of civilized life. This looks at the planning and design of the attractions and exhibits at the fair. With photos.Certainly one of the longest book titles in this section. This book was apparently commissioned by The Exposition and is mainly a picture book of the fair.


Gates, Martin. "Buidling of the World Fair". Chicago Tribune. August 16, 1893, p. 1, Chicago Herald, August 19, 1893, p.2, and Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1893, p. 1. A collection of articles and photographs related to the design of this fair. It also has an extensive history of world expositions up to that time.


Dean, Theresa. "White City Chips, Chicago" : Warren Publishing Company, 1895. This novel takes a deep look at the planning and design of the attractions and exhibits at the fair. it allows us as readers to further gain knowledge of the World Fair.


Roberet W, Randell. "World of Fairs: The Century-of-progress ". Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 1993. A historical and descriptive presentation of the world's Science, art, and industry, as viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. This books takes a scientific approach toward the World Fair. It discusses the land and enviormental issues that architects and construction workers had to deal with when creating the World Fair.



~Other Resources for Further Information


Chicago History

Chicago Historical Society
Chicago, City of the Century An extensive interactive history of Chicago from PBS.
Chronological History of Chicago

The Columbian Exposition

Interactive Guide to the World's Columbian Exposition
World's Columbian Exposition : Paul V. Galvin Digital History Collection
A hypertextual exploration of Chicago's World's Fair of 1893 A collection of photographs and commentary from the fair

Daniel Burhnam

Biography of Daniel Burnham with links to landmark buildings that remain.













4 Replies to “Natures metropolis chicago and the great west”

  1. Koi fayda nhi is video ka...otp dalne k baad direct mPIN mang rha h...uska kya kre...itne sare log puch chuke sir ki boli hi nhi nikal rhi...lgta hai inko v nhi pta

  2. Александр Илларионов says:

    but here is the kicker:

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