An American Literary History of Sustainability

By Abby L. Goode

294 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 2 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6982-3
    Published: September 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6981-6
    Published: September 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6983-0
    Published: August 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6133-7
    Published: August 2022

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In this book, Abby L. Goode reveals the foundations of American environmentalism and the enduring partnership between racism, eugenics, and agrarian ideals in the United States. Throughout the nineteenth century, writers as diverse as Martin Delany, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Walt Whitman worried about unsustainable conditions such as population growth and plantation slavery. In response, they imagined agrotopias—sustainable societies unaffected by the nation's agricultural and population crises—elsewhere. Though seemingly progressive, these agrotopian visions depicted selective breeding and racial "improvement" as the path to environmental stability. In this fascinating study, Goode uncovers an early sustainability rhetoric interested in shaping, just as much as sustaining, the American population.

Showing how ideas about race and reproduction were central to early sustainability thinking, Goode unearths an alternative environmental archive that ranges from gothic novels to Black nationalist manifestos, from Waco, Texas, to the West Indies, from city tenements to White House kitchen gardens. Exposing the eugenic foundations of some of our most well-regarded environmental traditions, this book compels us to reexamine the benevolence of American environmental thought.

About the Author

Abby L. Goode is assistant professor of English at Plymouth State University.
For more information about Abby L. Goode, visit the Author Page.


“A valuable contribution to understanding the history of American environmental thought through its literary output during the 19th and early 20th centuries. . . . Recommended.”—CHOICE

“A stellar argument . . . an ambitious, important intervention in sustainability rhetoric over a 300-year period.”—ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

“Compelling and astute. . . . [A] well-written, deftly argued, and much needed reconsideration of the development of nineteenth-century American agricultural and environmental imagination.”—New England Quarterly

“An important addition to a broader wave of scholarship . . . [that] provide[s] readers with an understanding of how the material, political, and cultural components of American agrarian thought took hold in nineteenth-century society.”—H-Environment

“Rich and compelling. . . . [A]n essential intervention into the history of US environmental thought, one that insists we reconsider the simple progressive goodness typically accorded to agrarianism and its legacies.”—American Literary History

“In this important, well-executed study . . . Goode has chosen a fascinating combination of literary works to consider. . . . In her consistently striking readings of these texts, Goode traces the nuanced yet potent ways in which sustainability rhetoric (and its whole conceptual scaffolding) evolved from the Revolutionary Era through the Progressive Era.”—Early American Literature