Crabgrass Crucible

Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America

By Christopher C. Sellers

384 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 halftones, 6 figs., 8 maps, appends., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2185-2
    Published: February 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6990-1
    Published: June 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8426-8
    Published: June 2012

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Awards & distinctions

2013 Independent Publisher Book Award, Environment/Ecology/Nature Bronze Medal

2013 Abel Wolman Award, Public Works Historical Society

Although suburb-building created major environmental problems, Christopher Sellers demonstrates that the environmental movement originated within suburbs--not just in response to unchecked urban sprawl. Drawn to the countryside as early as the late nineteenth century, new suburbanites turned to taming the wildness of their surroundings. They cultivated a fondness for the natural world around them, and in the decades that followed, they became sensitized to potential threats. Sellers shows how the philosophy, science, and emotions that catalyzed the environmental movement sprang directly from suburbanites' lives and their ideas about nature, as well as the unique ecology of the neighborhoods in which they dwelt.

Sellers focuses on the spreading edges of New York and Los Angeles over the middle of the twentieth century to create an intimate portrait of what it was like to live amid suburban nature. As suburbanites learned about their land, became aware of pollution, and saw the forests shrinking around them, the vulnerability of both their bodies and their homes became apparent. Worries crossed lines of class and race and necessitated new ways of thinking and acting, Sellers argues, concluding that suburb-dwellers, through the knowledge and politics they forged, deserve much of the credit for inventing modern environmentalism.

About the Author

Christopher C. Sellers is professor of history at Stony Brook University in New York. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies from Yale and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; he is also on faculty at the graduate program in public health at Stony Brook University Medical Center. He is author of Hazards of the Job: From Industrial Disease to Environmental Health Science and co-editor of, among other volumes, Dangerous Trade: Histories of Industrial Hazards across a Globalizing World.
For more information about Christopher C. Sellers, visit the Author Page.


"The real treat of Sellers's book is his masterful use of oral histories with suburbanites to provide snapshot biographies ranging over class, race, and environment."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Crabgrass Crucible covers a broad and important theme with insight, imagination, and literary distinction even while demonstrating enormous research, deep intelligence, and impressive conceptualization. It should be required reading for anyone with a passing interest in suburban, urban, or environmental history.”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Sellers's convincing and nuanced argument places the birthplace of the U.S. environmental movement in the suburbs of its largest cities. . . The accomplishments of Crabgrass Crucible are significant."--Technology and Culture

"Highlighting the social complexity of the suburban environmental movement, showing its deeply local character, and illuminating changing ideas of nature, Crabgrass Crucible develops a strong argument for environmentalism sprouting in the suburbs."--American Historical Review

"Delivering significant insights and fearless observations in spirited prose, it is not only a highly engaging book but also an important one. . . . Exquisite historical detail."--Environment and History

"A deft scholarly pen flows with accessible prose, and the author's humanity shines through on every page."--Social History of Medicine

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @ChrisCSellers.