Gregory Mcnamee

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Boundaries
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Boundaries

On a flank of the White Mountains not far from the Maine state line lies a small New Hampshire town called Albany, population 735.  Every seven years, town officials arrange for a surveyor to walk the boundaries of the town,

The Father of History
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The Father of History

Twenty-five centuries ago, in a narrow mountain pass 80-odd miles from Athens, the armies of Iran fought a brutal battle with the armies of Europe.  The Iranians were defeated (not that day, but not long thereafter), putting an end to

The Obesity Epidemic
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The Obesity Epidemic

It is a sign of the times that one of the most talked-about reality-TV shows of the season centers on a woman who desires to lose weight.  Lots of weight.  The show’s star, Ruby Gettinger, now tips the scales at

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Rockin’ in the 50’s

When the mode of music changes, Plato remarked, the walls of the city shake.  When the mode of music changed back in the 1950’s, the denizens of Plato’s Pad—sorry, but there are so few opportunities to get in an allusion

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A Perfect Storm Over Iowa

Take one part high fuel prices.  Mix in stagnant wages and high consumer prices generally.  Stir in global uncertainty and an ever-exploding human population.  Add misplaced production and chimera-chasing.  Add to all that the floods of May and June 2008

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The Food Crisis

These are bad times to be an eater in America, as anyone who has suffered sticker shock at the supermarket can tell you. The cost of necessities such as bread, milk, and eggs has risen steadily in the last two …

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The Food Crisis

These are bad times to be an eater in America, as anyone who has suffered sticker shock at the supermarket can tell you.  The cost of necessities such as bread, milk, and eggs has risen steadily in the last two

The Tragedy of Mexico
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The Tragedy of Mexico

Twenty-eight years ago, in the summer of 1980, I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, to take a job teaching English and journalism at a university there.  The job ended just as soon as it began: On the first day of classes,

The Curious Career of Billy the Kid
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The Curious Career of Billy the Kid

For most of the 19th century, the American West was a fairly tranquil place.  The myths of Hollywood and the wishful thinking of certain revisionist historians notwithstanding, throughout the region, for every gunfighter there were a hundred stockbrokers, and for

Immigration, the Border, and the Fate of the Land
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Immigration, the Border, and the Fate of the Land

One hundred and seventy miles southwest of Tucson, hard by the Mexico line, stands a weathered mountain range called the Cabeza Prieta.  It is a place of weird landforms and scarce but formidable vegetation, a graduate school for desert

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The Second Cultural Revolution?

Cultural bridges are sometimes made of unlikely materials. One, for instance, is the hoary Steppenwolf rocker-stomper “Born to Be Wild,” a favorite of the Western suds, studs, and leather crowd for three decades, and now, thanks to an accident of

The Unscholarly World of Scholarly Publishing
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The Unscholarly World of Scholarly Publishing

University presses are in trouble these days. Beset by a decline (intellectual and numerical) in the specialized academic readership to which they have always catered, encountering rising production and overhead costs, and supported with fewer and fewer dollars from their

Legends of the Four-Lane Road
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Legends of the Four-Lane Road

The interstate highways, John Steinbeck complained in his 1962 memoir Travels with Charley, “are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. When we get these thruways across the country, as we will and must, it will

A Ghost Awakens
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A Ghost Awakens

In the closing years of the 19th century, Indians throughout the American West began to dance. Dervish-like, they danced for hours and days on end, in the belief that their ecstasy would call forth the gods, bring back the dead,

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The Last Nomads

In his journal, the psychologist William James records that he once met Sir James Frazer, whose Golden Bough had been among the first Western books to attempt to record systematically the beliefs of traditional peoples around the world. James, then

Reservation Blues: Notes From Indian Country
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Reservation Blues: Notes From Indian Country

Just outside Tucson, Arizona, lies a foreign country. It is not Mexico, although that is close by, but Tohono O’odham Nation, an Indian reservation the size of Connecticut that is home to some 30,000 people. Larger than many countries, the

Bookman’s Holiday
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Bookman’s Holiday

Saint Ambrose, the reputed author of the Athanasian Creed, did not move his lips when he read. Neither did Ambrose’s pupil and colleague Saint Augustine. The Roman chroniclers who witnessed this feat thought it only a curiosity, and the provincial

At Home in the World
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At Home in the World

Gary Snyder’s new books A Place in Space, a collection of essays and talks, and Mountains and Rivers Without End, a cycle of poems, are of a piece. Both summarize more than 40 years of writing on literary,

Wallace Stegner, Writer of the West
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Wallace Stegner, Writer of the West

Wallace Stegner’s death on April 13, 1993, was not, as the cliche has it, untimely. He had lived to the respectable age of 85, after all; had lived to see the wide-open West of his early years carved by bulldozers,

Free at Last
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Free at Last

The criminal trial of the former football great O.J. Simpson on the charge of murder, a trial that overshadows the Gulf War as the media event of the 1990’s, has been over for more than a year. The civil trial

Heathen Days
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Heathen Days

It all started with television. Early in 1992, then Vice President Dan Quayle took the sitcom Murphy Brown to task because its lead, played by Candice Bergen, was to give birth out of wedlock. The show and its sponsors’ apparent

Paths of the Ancestors
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Paths of the Ancestors

On a bright winter morning in 1907, a rancher went searching for a lost calf deep in a labyrinthine canyon on the Colorado Plateau. Descending into a draw so steep that his horse could not follow, he stumbled upon an

Hard Lives, Hard Times
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Hard Lives, Hard Times

The life of country people, the Kentucky poet-farmer Wendell Berry has observed, is marked by a surprising complexity. To be successful it requires deep knowledge of the land, of the seasons in their time, of plants and animals—to say nothing

Desert Passages
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Desert Passages

Of the four major North American deserts, the Mojave has been, at least until recently, the least explored. Good parts of the Sonoran Desert are more forbidding; most of the Great Basin Desert lies farther from highways and settlements; and

Jungle Excursions
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Jungle Excursions

Certain frontline soldiers in Vietnam, Michael Herr has written, went off to battle in the jungle whistling the themes to the television shows Combat and The Mickey Mouse Club, making Vietnam the first television war in more ways than

In Enemy Country
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In Enemy Country

At the start of his new novel, Finding Moon, Tony Hillerman apologizes “for wandering away from our beloved Navajo canyon country.” That apology, however, is unnecessary. While Finding Moon may not be Hillerman’s best novel to date, it takes

Highway Music
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Highway Music

American literature, Wallace Stegner once observed, is not so much about place as motion: we are a restless people, and we write restless books that hurtle us from A to B with a blur to mark our passage. Discounting Stegner’s

Dreams of Gold
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Dreams of Gold

If California were to secede from the United States and establish itself, as its first Anglo settlers once intended, as an independent republic, it would instantly emerge as one of the world’s richest nations. As it is, one in every

The Russian Frontier
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The Russian Frontier

America, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner had it, is a land defined by its frontiers, once inexorably westward- lending, led by Manifest Destiny. The cultural geographer Carl Ortwin Sauer gave Turner’s “frontier thesis” a twist that denizens of the New

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Wiring to the Future

The current debate over the so-called cyberstream, the data highway that futurists promise will lead us to a technoutopia, has many people bewildered, so dense is it with rhetoric and empty assertion. This is not surprising: most of the debate

Border Crossings
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Border Crossings

It is by now a truism to say that the border between the United States and Mexico encompasses a third nation, one that shares in both societies but that forms its own culture. That may well be, but the border

Discovering Japan
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Discovering Japan

Away on the western brink of the Pacific Rim lies a land so mysterious to most Americans that it might as well be mythical. There, according to popular understanding, thrives a breed of 122 million fantastically rich people who through

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This Weimar-Like Time

“All artists,” my old friend Ed Abbey was fond of saying, “should have their lips sewn shut.” Certainly, to judge by current trends in the art world, many ought to have their fingers broken, their easels burned, their chisels hammered

Mountain Musings
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Mountain Musings

The Ozark Mountains make up an area that American literature has largely passed by, leaving it the province of folklore and song, of homespun stories that seldom make their way to the lowlands. Ken Carey’s fine new book about the

Gathering the Desert
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Gathering the Desert

It is ironic that the modern environmentalist movement was founded bv men with whom most modern environmentalists would have nothing to do today: game hunters, many so avid for the chase that they would spend fortunes to collect antlers and

Artist of the Wild
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Artist of the Wild

The frontiers of the world breed many men of John Audubon’s ilk: footloose, intemperate, experimental, in questionable standing with the law. He is better known today for the conservation society that bears his name—a group that began as a birdwatching

Lonesome No More
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Lonesome No More

All literary genres have their loyalists, but few have more devoted—and querulous—readers than the Western. So when in the mid-1980’s rumors began to circulate that Larry McMurtry, hitherto known for his angst-ridden tales of modern Texas, was at work on

Goodbye, Columbus
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Goodbye, Columbus

Gerald Vizenor intends in his fictions to pay due homage to Coyote, the American Indian trickster figure, through twist-and-turn narrative high jinks. He has often been successful, notably in the rollicking novel Griever: An American Monkey King in China,

Frontier Fantasies
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Frontier Fantasies

Folklore is not history, and mythmakers hate complications. Finally we have a reliable life of Boone through the considerable efforts of John Mack Faragher, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College whose earlier book Women and Men on the

Truth in Self-Advertisement
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Truth in Self-Advertisement

Hunter S. Thompson does not suffer fools gladly. For that matter, he seems to suffer no one at all, gladly or not. A survivor of the 1960’s, he has deemed his contemporaries “a whole subculture of frightened illiterates” and those

Rehabilitating Poe
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Rehabilitating Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was the finest American writer to be transformed into a “personality” in his own lifetime and, like François Villon, to be known less for his work than for his person. As is so often the case with

Gloomy Waters
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Gloomy Waters

Rivers exercise a strange pull on the human imagination; they work their way into every art form, from Bernini’s Renaissance sculptures of the great flows of Europe to Mikhail Sholokhov’s social-realist novels of Cossack life along the Don to Basho’s

New Writing From the Northwest
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New Writing From the Northwest

“Every kind of writing is good save that which bores.”
—Voltaire

The Pacific Northwest of the United States, embracing Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana, has long been a major source of agricultural and mineral wealth. For generations it has

A Ride Into the Sunset
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A Ride Into the Sunset

At the age of 83, Wallace Stegner is the éminence grise of Western American literature, a man responsible for shaping the writing not only of the region but also that of points eastward, thanks to the scores of graduates from

Bad by Design
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Bad by Design

A few months ago I went out into the Arizona desert to take photographs for a book of natural history I am writing. I had with me an expensive, late-model Japanese camera that might be advertised as “idiot-proof,” had the

Of Men and Beasts
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Of Men and Beasts

The old man has done a bit of everything that a journalist can do. He has been an opera critic, a war correspondent, a sportswriter. He prides himself most on the years he spent covering the bullfights of his native

Strange Days
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Strange Days

The wide-eyed declamations of Shirley MacLaine to the contrary, there is nothing particularly new about the so-called New Age, that hodgepodge of religious borrowings from diverse sources ranging from the genuine (Buddhism, cybernetics) to the quackish (L. Ron Hubbard, Ignatius

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Empire of the Ants

“America,” noted H.L. Mencken, “is a land so geographically tilted that everything which is loose rolls to California.” In the last few years, however, it seems that most of the great untethered mass has run out of steam amid the