We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

To Pass On a Good Earth

The Life and Work of Carl O. Sauer

Michael Williams. With David Lowenthal and William M. Denevan

Publication Year: 2014

To Pass On a Good Earth is the candid and compelling new biography of one of the twentieth century’s most distinctive and influential scholars. The legendary "Great God beyond the Sierras," Carl Ortwin Sauer is America’s most famed geographer, an inspiration to both academics and poets, yet no book-length biography of him has existed until now.

This Missouri-born son of German immigrants contributed to many fields, with a versatility rare in his time and virtually unknown today. Sauer explored plant and animal domestication, the entry of Native Americans into the continent, their transformation of the land into prairies and cultivated fields, and subsequent European enterprise that fueled prosperity but also triggered environmental degradation and the loss of cultural diversity. Providing profound and invaluable insights into the human occupance, cultivation--and often ruination--of the earth, Sauer revolutionized our understanding of the impact of European conquest of the New World.

Author and fellow geographer Michael Williams had access to Sauer’s voluminous correspondence in the Bancroft Library at Berkeley and in family collections. Enlivened by these intimate letters to family and colleagues, To Pass On a Good Earth reveals the rare qualities of mind and heart that made Sauer one of America’s most treasured--as well as troubled--intellectual pioneers. He brought both historical rigor and humanistic understanding to the burgeoning environmental movement and ceaselessly championed an ecumenical approach in an age of increasing specialization.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (282.1 KB)
pp. i-iv


pdf iconDownload PDF (19.3 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (45.1 KB)
pp. vii-xii

...came into being during Michael and Eleanore’s several tenures in my Berkeley home, a scant stone’s throw from Sauer’s, and an easy walk from the University of California campus, where Sauer was for more than half...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (30.0 KB)
pp. xiii-xiv

...Starrs have been particularly helpful and supportive. Diana discussed aspects of the manuscript with Michael when he was writing it. Paul provided penetrating insights on the continuing Sauerian tradition. Ellen FitzSimmons Porzig provided a large file of Sauer family photographs. John...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (43.6 KB)
pp. xv-xx

...School. Early on in our Bay Area sojourn I visited an old friend and fellow Welshman, David Hooson, who was then dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Berkeley after having been a professor of geography there for nearly two decades. As we reminisced over lunch on the terrace of the...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (36.7 KB)
pp. 1-4

...farming district just south of Highway 40, some fifty miles west of St. Louis. From his window he looked across the yard to the woodlot. Through the split-rail fence that surrounded it...

read more

1 Warrenton of the Middle Border,1889 – 1908

pdf iconDownload PDF (81.3 KB)
pp. 5-16

...about ten to twelve blocks, aligned on either side of the commercial core of Boone’s Lick Road, the town’s Main Street. Its mile or more of sidewalks with overhanging wooden verandas was lined with stores, saloons, banks, a pool hall, a drugstore, livery stables...

read more

2. Graduate Studies and New Places,1908 – 1915

pdf iconDownload PDF (126.2 KB)
pp. 17-36

...small-town boy in a far more demanding big-city academic environment. After cozy, comfortable Warrenton with its extended family cocoon, where everything was slow and easy, Chicago and Northwestern...

read more

3. Michigan, 1916 – 1923

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.6 KB)
pp. 37-51

...length of the war were probably exaggerated and that any medical examination would pick up his “unreliable heart,” which would probably debar him, since “no doctor ever looked at me without saying something...

read more

4. Berkeley

pdf iconDownload PDF (140.7 KB)
pp. 52-74

...beloved sanctuary from busy urban life, was far away and time-consuming to visit. The extreme heat and cold of the Midwest gave way to the equable climate of California’s Bay Area. He was glad to leave Ann...

read more

5. Larger Horizons of Place and Time

pdf iconDownload PDF (99.9 KB)
pp. 75-89

...interests during the early Berkeley years. His main focus was on cultural and historical fieldwork in Mexico and adjacent parts of the American Southwest. He first crossed the border in 1926 and went back again almost...

read more

6. The Frontiers of Knowledge

pdf iconDownload PDF (80.8 KB)
pp. 90-100

...referred to his previous methodological writing and lamented that his field and archive studies in Mexico were well known to archaeologists and anthropologists but ignored by geographers. What interested...

read more

7. “The Great God West of the Sierras”

pdf iconDownload PDF (96.6 KB)
pp. 101-114

...friend and mentor Wellington Jones urged him to attend the upcoming Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting in Ann Arbor “and show yourself to a whole generation of younger geographers...

read more

8. The Farthest Corridors of Human Time

pdf iconDownload PDF (94.4 KB)
pp. 115-128

...were the domestication of New World crops and the antiquity of initial human entry into the hemisphere. The origins of the first crops and of the first Americans — the “paleogeography of man,” as he called it — became a consuming passion throughout his remaining...

read more

9. “The Heart of Human Geography”

pdf iconDownload PDF (89.7 KB)
pp. 129-141

...heavily for running the department during his frequent absences, and later John Kesseli, were both seconded to Washington, so that Sauer had to stretch his own teaching. Both Sauer’s children also went to Washington. Jonathan, soon to marry Hilda Sievers, was...

read more

10. “Born in Another Age”

pdf iconDownload PDF (84.1 KB)
pp. 142-153

...with New Deal programs that ignored cultural, environmental, and historical circumstances and sought to solve everything by formula. To Sauer, their universalizing abstractions heralded an ominous doctrine...

read more

11. “Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth”

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.2 KB)
pp. 154-164

...From a list of ninety humanities and social science luminaries, Sauer was asked to select thirty participants. Although “aghast, excited, and somewhat scared” by the boldness and size of the...

read more

12. A Productive Retirement,1957 – 1975

pdf iconDownload PDF (102.5 KB)
pp. 165-180

...from Chaucer, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn,” a German student song seemed apt: “Es gibt so manche Strasse da nimmer ich marschiert. Es gibt so manchen Wein den...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (43.7 KB)
pp. 181-184

...Scholasticus’s “five-dollar phrases for commonplaces” — ruled government and academe alike. Cultural and agricultural diversity gave way to monocultural uniformity, an arid and rootless sameness...


pdf iconDownload PDF (157.2 KB)
pp. 185-210


pdf iconDownload PDF (164.3 KB)
pp. 211-232


pdf iconDownload PDF (144.9 KB)
pp. 233-252

Image Plates

pdf iconDownload PDF (8.2 MB)
pp. 253-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935775
E-ISBN-10: 0813935776
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935669
Print-ISBN-10: 0813935660

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 27 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Geography.
  • Geographers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Sauer, Carl Ortwin, 1889-1975.
  • Human geography.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access