American Green

The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn

W. W. Norton, 2007


The rise of the perfect lawn represents one of the most profound transformations ever in the history of the American landscape. Today, the lawn is one of America’s leading “crops,” outstripping cotton in acres by a factor of two. Blending muckraking journalism and social history, Steinberg looks at both the lighter and darker side of the all-American landscape, from sprinkling restrictions and flawed pesticide labels to lawn-mower racing, AstroTurf, and the man so addicted to perfection that he recreated Augusta’s twelfth hole in his backyard.

9780393329308_198Steinberg traces the history of the lawn from its explosion in the postwar suburban community of Levittown—just miles from where he grew up—to the present romance with turf colorants, crabgrass killers, and riding mowers. He paints a picture of Americans as so in love with supergreen, weed-free, ultra-trim grass that they cut their lawns with hand scissors, dial up turf hot lines at the slightest sign of brown, obsess over dandelions, and mow checkerboard patterns into their yards.

But perfection has its costs, from the whopping 75,000 Americans injured by lawn mowers every year to the seventeen million gallons of gasoline spilled each summer refueling garden equipment—more oil than marred Alaska during the Exxon Valdez disaster—to the hearing impairment of Latino landscapers caused by leaf blowers. Steinberg’s exposé will make you think twice about the landscape that defines the American Dream.

By turns funny, hard-hitting, and ironic, this book may well change forever how you view your yard.

Critical Acclaim:

“A madcap history of the lawn and an illumination of the negative health and environmental effects caused by the incessant desire for greener! Faster!”—Kelly McMasters, Newsday

“An engrossing, darkly funny history of the suburban lawn and its hold on American homeowners.”—Valerie Finholm, Hartford Courant

“[Steinberg’s] insight turns this book into a fascinating window on some of the deeper meanings of this most peculiar portion of Americans’ ongoing relationship with nature…. Immensely readable and enjoyable.”—Brian Black, Christian Science Monitor

“Keeps the pages turning. It is gratifying to learn that grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.”—William Grimes, New York Times

“With humor and wit, Steinberg reveals the whimsical side of lawn care, from checkerboard lawn designs to the home owner who transformed his yard into the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Course.”—Science News

“Slyly cheerful…. With a light touch, Steinberg uncovers a degree of obtuseness and denial about lawn-related safety issues that mirrors the present administration’s attitude toward global warming and the general public’s tacit complicity in ignoring environmental dangers.”—Michelle Huneven, Los Angeles Times

“Steinberg is able to turn a strong opinion into an interesting story that any suburban lawn ranger could relate to. And it will help all of us think twice or thrice before becoming green with envy at the neighbor’s perfect lawn.”—Marianne Binetti, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Accessible and engaging.”—American Gardener

“Lively…. You’ll get lots of interesting history and amusing anecdotes in American Green.”—Neil Genzlinger, New York Times Book Review

“A rueful and revealing commentary on America’s nearly myopic devotion to acquiring and maintaining the perfect lawn…. Balancing his sardonic, tongue-in-cheek wit with an investigative reporter’s penchant for revelatory journalism, Steinberg offers an exposé that is as entertaining as it instructive.”—Carol Haggas, Booklist

“Steinberg exposes an ominous trail of lies and manipulations…. He also proposes some of his own pragmatic solutions…. An additional component of this book justifies a round of applause: American Green resounds as hilarious satire.”—Preservation

“In this extraordinary tale of the lawns that ate America, Ted Steinberg proves once again that he is a master storyteller as well as our foremost environmental historian.”—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

“[Steinberg] is aiming for the grassy equivalent of Fast Food Nation…. Delivered in a friendly, engaging voice that might just win over skeptics.”—Publishers Weekly

“A good social history, written in a humorous and engaging style.”—Tobias Lanz, Chronicles

“Ted Steinberg is a very funny guy who also happens to write great social and environmental history. He has discovered in that blandest of American landscapes, the front lawn, a story of how we live that is as profound and disturbing as it is amusing and bizarre.”—Donald Worster, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

“[Steinberg is] a legitimate thinker, and this book will be cited and used against the green industry by local environmental groups throughout the country for years to come.”—Pat Jones, Golf Course News

“This book is for anyone who has been awakened on a weekend morning by the sound of lawn equipment and wants to know the whole story behind Americans’ obsessive-compulsive lawn-care disorder.”—Nancy L. Pelzer, Science Book & Films

“Nowhere does [Steinberg] hit an out-of-the-park home run as directly as in this treatise about the rise and foibles of American lawn culture…. Steinberg presents sound, practical lawn-care strategies from experts for keeping the green in your wallet as well as your yard.”—Lexington Herald-Leader

“Steinberg has an accessible and engaging style, and while he raises a lot of questions about the impact of lawn culture on the environment, he leaves room for hope that more Americans may yet embrace a more relaxed aesthetic that allows for a wider plant palette, a bit of brown in the winter, and even a weed here and there.”—Linda McIntyre, American Gardener

“Steinberg makes a convincing case that ‘turf hysteria’ and the ‘giant chemical orgy’ of modern lawn care have led to water pollution and the shunning of native plants.”—Kate Pickert, Audubon

“A look at the dark side of the American lawn.”—Atlantic Monthly

American Green makes easy and cheerful learning a lot about the relationship of compulsive grassifying and American social tensions and distinctions. There’s much nutrition in this book, considerably more than in more pretentious tomes, and Steinberg can write.”—Roger G. Kennedy, director emeritus, National Museum of American History

“[Steinberg] mixes humor and environmental lessons in a pleasant mix…. [He] has a passion for his subject and has crafted an enjoyable summer read.”—

American Green is inspirational reading and a surprisingly spritely read.”—Arthur Salm, San Diego Union-Tribune

“Perfection exacts a price…and Steinberg’s American Green takes a long walk on the dark side.”—Glenn C. Altschuler, Boston Globe

“Steinberg’s book is a pleasure to read. His writing is elegant, and he constructs a narrative that is at various times funny, tragic, troubling, and even downright wacky.”—Albert G. Way, Geographical Review

“American Green is an excellent addition to the small canon of lively catalogs that document just how crazy Americans can be.”—Max Watman, New York Sun

“The lawn is the centerpiece of the American Dream, and why wouldn’t we dream about our obsession? In American Green, Ted Steinberg explores the psychological, moral, economic, and, yes, even political implications of growing and mowing a lawn, a not at all academic act that turns out to be a blast. You may never picnic the same way again, but if you do, you will want to talk about it with your city councilman, if not your doctor.”—Robert Sullivan, author of The Meadowlands and Rats

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