The prolific popular history author explores the notion of property—man's proprietary relationship with the land—and how it has shaped peoples and civilizations and tells us something about the future.
... engrossing ... With his unique blend of wide-eyed curiosity, meticulous research, and erudite analysis, Winchester weaves a tapestry that encompasses nearly every element involved in the concept of 'land' ... Land abounds with dozens of eye-opening factoids to please any fan of popular history ... But this is no mere bathroom book packed with intriguing facts. His storytelling talents on full display, Winchester convincingly demonstrates that, as the subtitle notes, land and ownership have indeed 'shaped the modern world.' Those kinds of sweeping pronouncements are an unfortunately bombastic, exaggerated element of countless nonfiction subtitles but, in this case, it holds true ... Though relevant, Winchester’s examination of the disruptive enclosure and clearance movements in rural England and Scotland is probably the book’s least interesting section. However, it’s a rare dull moment in an otherwise entertaining book, exemplified in three standout chapters ... Winchester’s colorfully rendered capsule biographies help to convey the gravity of certain historical milestones ... Winchester is, once again, a consummate guide.
Winchester is good at...adding dashes of drama, narrative, indignation and, above all, connection to disparate historical accounts. He does the same with the brutal dispossession of native populations in North America ... Given the scope of his project, portions of Land are inevitably fleeting—quick visits to multiple regions and countries and conflicts, and a tendency to reduce everything to a dispute over the soil rather than, say, the soul ... Yet there is soul in this book ... Just beneath the surface of Land is a tension between the benevolent stewardship of land for the enjoyment of all...and the compulsion to possess and enclose, to clear and exclude ... a stirring call for communal imperatives, even if its history recounts the constant allure of private ownership.
... not a polemic, as much as one might sometimes wish it were. Like a lot of journalists-turned-historians, Winchester is a quick study, and there is an astounding amount of information in Land, much of it revealing, although it can also feel somewhat random. As he roams his seemingly boundless terrain, Winchester provides us with set piece after set piece. And yet, despite the epic continents-and-centuries scale he tries to take on, his approach at its best is often miniaturist, as it has been with perhaps greater success in some of his previous books ... most if not all of the people in the book end up becoming symbols, and we can never really grasp how they all interconnect. Personalizing history can sometimes make it more remote, not less ... You can’t help learning a lot from a well-researched book like this, though some of the material may be familiar from other accounts ... despite Winchester’s evident sympathy toward dispossessed Native Americans, which serves as a kind of leitmotif throughout Land, there are too many sentences that could have come out of a high school textbook ... Without a real thesis or overarching theme driving it, Land does not quite come together. It can often be hard to discern why the reader is being told a particular story. Sometimes, though, it is when Winchester is at his least colorful and most reportorial that the connections he is trying to make between the past and the present come through vividly.