Book Review


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).

Book Review: "Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: An Ecological Perspective"

Review by Aubrey Streit Krug

Title: Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: An Ecological Perspective
Editors: Tom Lynch, Paul A. Johnsgard, Jack Phillips
Publisher: Prairie Chronicles Press in partnership with the Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition

This anthology gathers essays originally published from 2007–14 in the regional journal Prairie Fire into a volume designed to encourage ecotourism. The phrase “natural treasures” in the title describes what visitors, newcomers, and longtime residents alike might encounter and learn to love in the Great Plains (especially in Nebraska): indigenous and pioneer human cultures, fossils and rocks, grasslands and forests, watersheds and wetlands, plants and animals. Although the book’s twenty-six essays are grouped into four sections based on their topics, their writers collectively take an “ecological perspective” that emphasizes connections between creatures, habitats, and larger forces.

Book Review: The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson

Review by Steve Chick

Title: The Soil Will Save us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet
Author: Kristin Ohlson
Publisher: Rodale Books

Shame on me. For thirty-three-plus years I utilized my leadership positions for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) to advocate for the protection of the top few inches of our precious topsoil. Arguably, I was pretty effective at prescribing a variety of conservation practices to achieve that goal, but for most of the entirety of my career I knew there was so much more potential. As an employee of the premier soils agency in the federal government I should have been better equipped to prescribe recipes for enhancing the entire soil profile. These recipes could have offered alternatives for ensuring a fully healthy soil profile, including controlling erosion of the surface layer.

Book Review: Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa by Joseph Weber

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

Title: Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa
Author: Joseph Weber
Publisher: The University of Iowa Press

With this book, Joe Weber has made an important contribution to the University of Iowa Press’s series entitled “Iowa and the Midwest Experience.” True to its main title, this accessible book tells the history of transcendental meditation in the US. True to its subtitle, the book also details the history and the current situation of TM in Fairfield, Iowa, the home of the Maharishi University of Management, or MUM, where would-be meditators once tried to levitate by jumping on what Weber calls mattresses in the hallways.

Book Review: Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie: A Nebraska Year by Paul A. Johnsgard

Review by Jack Phillips

Title: Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie: A Nebraska Year
Author: Paul A. Johnsgard
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

On a sunny October morning I sat in my favorite Omaha coffee shop with a strong Ethiopian, waiting for the day to warm before my weekly botanical walkabout. Purely by chance my literary coffee buddies were Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays: Second Series and Paul Johnsgard’s Seasons of the Tallgrass Prairie: A Nebraska Year. Reading multiple books together indulges my wont and creates some interesting conversations. Paul and Ralph have a lot in common across more than a century, and together over coffee seemed to agree on what I needed most to hear. Ralph began:

Book Review: The Groundwater Atlas of Nebraska: Resource Atlas No. 4b/2013 Third (revised) Edition

Review by Ann Bleed

Title: The Groundwater Atlas of Nebraska: Resource Atlas No. 4b/2013 Third (revised) Edition
Authors: Jesse T. Korus, Leslie M. Howard, Aaron R. Young, Dana P. Divine, Mark E. Burbach, Michael Jess, and Douglas R. Hallum with contributions from R. F. Diffendal Jr. and R. M. Joeckel, edited by R. F. Diffendal Jr.
Publisher: Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Although most of Nebraska is considered to be semiarid, because of groundwater the state has many miles of rivers, including an officially designated Scenic River along a portion of the Niobrara River and the iconic Platte River, a major stopping place for birds as they migrate across the state. In Nebraska’s Sandhills, groundwater has also created numerous lakes, wetlands, and meadows, which support wildlife and cattle, even during droughts. Groundwater also provides water for most Nebraskans domestic and agricultural uses.

Book Review: Deep Map Country: Literary Cartography of the Great Plains by Susan Naramore Maher

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

Title: Deep Map Country: Literary Cartography of the Great Plains
Authors: Susan Naramore Maher
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Deep Map Country was written by a scholar for scholars, and yet, it offers something for the nonscholarly reader, as well.

Susan Naramore Maher, formerly of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is currently the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In what Maher often refers to as this “study,” it’s clear that she admires many writers—both scholars like John Janovy and nonscholar writers like Wallace Stegner, Jolene Bair, and Linda Hasselstrom. Maher calls Loren Eiseley “a monumental figure among modern essayists.” Eiseley has a large following, however, because, in addition to poetry, he wrote what is commonly referred to as “creative nonfiction”—a genre of writing that makes often arcane information available to all readers.

Book Review: The Architecture of Saskatchewan: A Visual Journey by Bernard Flaman

Review by Kari A. Ronning

Title: The Architecture of Saskatchewan: A Visual Journey
Author: Bernard Flaman
Publisher: CPRC Press

Ordinarily we think of the landscape of the Great Plains as the natural landscape—the rolling plains, the streams, the grass, and the cottonwoods. But for those who live in towns, large and small, the built landscape is the one we actually are most familiar with because we live in it. Bernard Flaman, the author of the winner of this year’s Great Plains Book Prize, The Architecture of Saskatchewan, makes the familiar built landscape of the Great Plains seem unfamiliar by giving it the deeper dimension of history and context.

Book Review: Long Mile Home: Boston under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice by Scott Helman and Jenna Russell

Review by Laura Kapustka

Title: Long Mile Home: Boston under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice
Authors: Scott Helman and Jenna Russell (reporters for The Boston Globe)
Publisher: Dutton

I first ran the Boston Marathon in 2007. My husband, three children and my father were coming along as my support crew. Although it would be the ninth marathon that I had run, it would be my first Boston Marathon and the first one in which my dad would see me run. As a runner, participating in the Boston Marathon is a pinnacle—a crowning jewel in your collection of medals. Because of the marathon’s qualifying time requirement, it’s not easy to get a race bib. A runner either has to have the speed to qualify or the connections to raise thousands of dollars to run in support of a charity.

Book Review: The Bur Oak Manifesto: Seeking Nature and Planting Trees in the Great Plains by Jack Phillips

Review by Aubrey Streit Krug

Title: The Bur Oak Manifesto: Seeking Nature and Planting Trees in the Great Plains
Author: Jack Phillips
Publisher: Prairie Fire Press

Bur oaks are slow-growing but long-lived trees with thick bark, lobed leaves, and large acorns. On the Great Plains they are found in the open in areas called oak savannas. Bur oaks have evolved to survive competition and catastrophe. As conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “Bur oak is the only tree that can stand up to a prairie fire and live.” They provide shade and food, shelter, and fuel. And, concludes Jack Phillips, they can teach humans what it means to be part of the community of nature.

Book Review: Crisis of Catholic Authority: Faith and Power in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska by Rachel Pokora

Review by Scott Stanfield

Title: Crisis of Catholic Authority: Faith and Power in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska
Author: Rachel Pokora
Publisher: Paragon House

The flurry in the letters columns of the local press that accompanied the publication last September of Rachel Pokora’s Crisis of Catholic Authority was a kind of belated echo of the media turbulence inspired in the spring of 1996 by the event whose history Professor Pokora recounts in her book: Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s decision to excommunicate Diocese of Lincoln Catholics who belonged to the state chapter of the group Call to Action.

Book Review: "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" by Elizabeth Kolbert

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

Title: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Elizabeth Kolbert has written an important and readable book, The Sixth Extinction. The book explores the concept of the “Anthropocene” Age—the age of the coming “sixth extinction,” which, she writes convincingly, will likely be caused by humans. Acknowledging the uniqueness of Homo sapiens, Kolbert identifies human curiosity and the will to explore as qualities that will ultimately drive many species to extinction. Human creativity, of course, has led to climate change, one of the current drivers of extinction.

Book Review: "Farthest House" by Margaret Lukas

Review by Lopa Banerjee

Title: Farthest House
Author: Margaret Lukas
Publisher: WriteLife Publishing

On the third of May, 1960, a girl child is born in a home delivery filled with complications and questions. As she is miraculously “harvested,” her mother dies. In the opening chapter of Margaret Lukas’s debut novel, Farthest House, readers are transported to a tragic, moving, and suspenseful world of family secrets. The narrative, complex and lyrical from the start, becomes spine chilling the moment we know that it is told by none other than the spirit of Amelie-Anais, dead nineteen years. From the opening, the novel is a roller-coaster ride of powerful, unsettling emotions as the ghost narrates the account of the baby’s birth, connecting the story to her own life in eastern France and the Plains of Nebraska. The girl, named Willow, born with a minor physical handicap, instantly becomes the narrator’s focus, and the story moves forward from there in layers, recounting Willow’s transition from a helpless baby to a bewildered young woman and a passionate painter.

Book Review: Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasters by Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer

Review by John Davidson

Title: Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasters
Authors: Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer
Publisher: New York University Press

Few stories in our national annals are as pervasive and fundamental as water resources development—the federal (and occasionally local) government’s investment in the physical engineering of our rivers, shores, lakes, and wetlands. Most of these projects are attempts to control rivers with levees, channels, dams, locks, and irrigation diversions. Whether as developer of projects or licensor of private enterprises, these federal initiatives touch every aspect of human activity. Many have brought positive changes, facilitating trade and commerce, developing hydroelectricity as an alternative to coal, expanding agricultural opportunity, and creating aesthetic attractions. But the scale and ubiquity of water projects alter the biophysical, social, and economic landscapes and have far too often resulted in serious negative consequences. Whether one is concerned with flooding, a changing climate, land use and development, agriculture, urban affairs, pollution, wildlife protection, or the politics of federalism, the topic of water development is central and inescapable.

Book Review: "The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning" by Julene Bair

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

Title: “The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning”
Author: Julene Bair
Publisher: Viking

In “Ogallala Road,” Julene Bair asks herself if “The Kansas farm girl who, with all her worldly experience, had never quite left home” could love anyone from Kansas. The answer to that question and her affection for water form the foundation of the book.

Book Review: "Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

“Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation”
Author: Dan Fagin
Publisher: Bantam Books

In “Toms River” Dan Fagin explores the long route that parents and public officials took in Toms River, N.J., to scientifically identify the childhood cancer cluster found there in the mid-1990s and then to determine what to do about that discovery.

Book Review: "Big Jim Exon: A Political Biography" by Charles M. Pallesen Jr. and Samuel Van Pelt

Review by Robert Sittig

“Big Jim Exon: A Political Biography”
Authors: Charles M. Pallesen Jr. and Samuel Van Pelt
Publisher: Infusionmedia

This volume covers the political history of J. J. Exon by concentrating on his long involvement in the public arena, first as an activist in the State Democratic Party and later as a frequent successful candidate for high political office.

The work sets the stage by recounting Exon’s birth and childhood in South Dakota, where his forebearers settled after immigrating from England. He moved to Omaha upon graduation from high school in 1939 and attended college until World War II started when he enlisted in the Army. He met Pat Pros in Omaha, and they were married in 1943 while he was on furlough. After his discharge, the couple lived in Omaha where he worked for a financial company, and they raised a family of three children. In 1953 they moved to Lincoln with the same company, and Exon later started an office equipment store on his own, which he ran until he was elected governor in 1970.

Book Review: “Yellowstone Wildlife: Ecology and Natural History of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” by Paul A. Johnsgard

Review by Mace Hack

“Yellowstone Wildlife: Ecology and Natural History of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”
Author: Paul A. Johnsgard
Photographer: Thomas D. Mangelsen
Publisher: University Press of Colorado

Yellowstone National Park is a place of superlatives. It was the first national park in the United States, some claim first in the world, when it was established on March 1, 1872. The “supervolcano” lying beneath it is not only the largest in North America, but it also powers the regions iconic geysers, like Old Faithful, known worldwide, and Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest still in action. Beyond its geological wonders, Yellowstone sits within one of the largest and most intact natural areas remaining in the continental United States. Few other places contain such a diversity of big mammals especially, like grizzly and black bears, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn and wolves. The country’s largest and oldest public herd of bison live here as well. That the place and its wildlife persist at all is remarkable, even miraculous, after almost 200 years of development and environmental degradation elsewhere in the Northern Rockies.

Book Review: "Finding Higher Ground: Adaption in the Age of Warming" by Amy Seidl

Review by John Atkeison

“Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming”
Author: Amy Seidl
Publisher: Beacon Press

Does ‘Finding Higher Ground’ Offer A Way Home?

“Finding Higher Ground” is a book that is full of positive ideas, lovely language and words that flag important concepts that illuminate our way forward toward “Adaptation In the Age of Warming.” I agree with a basic premise of the book, that we can survive and thrive through coping with global warming. So why does this small book make me so uneasy?

Book Review: "What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte" by Lisa Knopp

Review by Lopamudra Banerjee

“What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte”
Author: Lisa Knopp
Publisher: University of Missouri Press

I love rivers. Wide ones, narrow ones, straight ones, winding ones, single-channeled and braided ones. I love a river’s mysterious depths and bottoms, its reflectiveness, its changeability and rhythms—spring thaw, annual rise, low water, winter freeze. I love that a river’s rushing waters stir my imagination and connect me with other parts of the region, country, continent, earth.

Thus opens the preface of “What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte,” the latest book by Lincoln, Neb.-based author Lisa Knopp, a collection of poignant essays in which she meditates on the three Midwestern rivers and the different ways in which she has known each of them. “What the River Carries,” one of the distinguished finalists for the 2012–2013 ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) Book Award for Environmental creative nonfiction is a geographical, historical and spiritual exploration of the landscape surrounding the author, where she presents these three rivers as enduring metaphors for seeing or exploring herself.

Book Review: "Inferno" by Dan Brown

Review by Francis Moul

Author: Dan Brown
Publisher: Doubleday

It takes place mostly in one day, with quick travels from Florence and Venice in Italy to Istanbul, and eventually to Geneva. There are flashbacks to earlier times and situations, but the typical Dan Brown frenzied activity is pretty well contained in 24 hours in his latest book.

And what a jam-packed day it is. Robert Langford, Brown’s erstwhile hero in hugely popular books (see “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons”), is here caught up in Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, “The Divine Comedy.” This is another blockbuster novel by Brown, sure to leap atop the best-seller list.


Immigration in Nebraska

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