John Riley - The Once and Future Great Lakes Country: An Ecological History (K)

Tough. Slog. This book took me forever to read. So long, that I actually can’t remember a time when I ate breakfast reading something else. In fairness to the author, it’s almost like a textbook. The structure that makes it hard to read front-to-back likely makes it a good reference book. But boy did I work hard to get through this.

First and foremost, this book as the most comprehensive summary of indigenous communities in the Great Lakes region that I’ve seen. That early section of the book alone is worth reading just for that purpose. (In fact, I kind of wish the author had just published that section as a stand-alone book. It would reach a larger audience, I think.)

It shatters notions that the North America was pristine and unchanging when Europeans arrived. It also shows how gut-wrenchingly quickly Europeans ravaged the landscape. Most of the region was decimated before Canada was even a country. 

I am absolutely glad I read it, but I do have to question the editor. A heavier hand with the red pencil would have eliminated a lot of the repetition, particularly in the last third of the book. The author includes a ton of lengthy, direct, and repetitive quotes from journals and diaries of the past. All interesting information, but when strung together you almost can’t see the forest for the trees so to speak. Less would definitely have been more. 
There’s a lose interpretation of “Great Lakes” and “future”. There are huge chunks of information about happenings in New Jersey, a neighbour of the region okay, but also places like Florida. Again, interesting stuff, but the main argument gets unfocused. It’s cool that the book focuses on the past, but there’s not a ton of “future” in here. Be prepared for a history textbook with little contemporary commentary or future predictions.

Also, this is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. (And I read this kind of thing for a living.)