William Least Heat-Moon
Prairyerth is an amazing piece of work that is hard to summarize with justice. Heat-Moon has taken the sort of place most people view as an inconvenient space separating origin and destination and subjected it to intense study. His report is remarkable, and one is left wishing that similar works existed for every small and seemingly insignificant place.
Of course, Chase County is much more than a place to be driven through or flown over on the way to somewhere else. It is home to the largest expanse of tallgrass prairie remaining in the United States. It has also been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, and PrairyErth takes both the human and natural history of the county as its subjects. In any case, human history of the place has been shaped at least as much by its geography and environment as by the efforts of its inhabitants.
Heat-Moon discovers that most of the county is encompassed by twelve of the 7.5 minute quadrangle maps produced by the US Geological Survey, and he divides his book into sections named for each of the quadrangles. Each section begins with an impressive collection of quotes relevant to the text that follows. These are followed by a series of essays - seventy-odd over the entire book - that cover topics as diverse as springs, cottonwood trees, birds of prey, and the activities of any number of interesting human characters.
PrairyErth is a massive work; Heat-Moon says near the end of the volume that it is three times his originally-intended length. Nevertheless, the time invested in reading this book will be well-rewarded.