Manning, Richard 1951–

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Manning, Richard 1951–

(Richard Dale Manning)

PERSONAL: Born February 7, 1951, in Flint, MI; son of Harold J. and Juanita Manning; married Margaret B. Saretsky, June 5, 1971 (divorced); married Tracy M. Stone, September 8, 1990; children: (first marriage) Joshua. Education: University of Michigan, A.B., 1973.

ADDRESSES: Home—Montana. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Sq. W., New York, NY 10003.

CAREER: Journalist and author. Station WATZ, Alpena, MI, news director, 1975–79; Alpena News, Alpena, reporter, 1977–79; Post-Register, Idaho Falls, ID, city editor, 1979–81; Wood River Journal, Hailey, ID, editor, columnist, 1981–82; Times-News, Twin Falls, ID, columnist, 1982–85; Missoulian, Missoula, MT, reporter, columnist, 1985–89; freelance writer, 1989–. Stanford University, John S. Knight fellow in journalism, 1994–95.

AWARDS, HONORS: Blethen Award for investigative reporting, Allied Newspapers, 1986–87; Audubon Society Journalism Award; Richard J. Margolis Award, Blue Mountain Center, 1992.


Last Stand: Logging, Journalism, and the Case for Humility, Peregrine Smith Books (Salt Lake City, UT), 1991, published as Last Stand: A Riveting Exposé of Environmental Pillage and a Lone Journalist's Struggle to Keep Faith, Penguin (New York, NY), 1992.

A Good House: Building a Life on the Land, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Food's Frontier: The Next Green Revolution, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Inside Passage: A Journey beyond Borders, Island Press (Washington, DC), 2001.

Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Journalist and author Richard Manning readily admits he is on a mission to awaken Americans to their responsibilities to the environment. Writing primarily about the American West and Northwest, Manning has exposed logging companies' abuse of clear-cutting practices, examined the lessons of the loss of the formerly vast North American grassland, crusaded against mining along a Montana river, explained new techniques in worldwide food-growing, and argued for a rethinking of the concept of wilderness.

While a reporter for a Missoula, Montana, newspaper, Manning uncovered abuses by two forestry companies which were clear-cutting acres of land without the required replanting of new stock. Manning's investigative reporting was unpopular in Missoula, whose economy depends largely on forestry interests. He lost his job as a result of his story, but later turned it into a book, Last Stand: Logging, Journalism, and the Case for Humility. Because the companies feared buyouts and were thus in favor of the fastest method to improve cash flow, Manning said that they not only denuded the landscape needlessly but also hoped to encroach further upon nearby national forests. According to George Sibley in the Bloomsbury Review, "Manning's story is a textbook study for investigative journalism, replete … with ethical issues." The book, Sibley continued, is also "a chronicle of his own growth…. Manning comes gradually … to the realization that our principal task today is to save ourselves from the consequences of our own unthought-out acts." In Choice, C.E. Cheston noted that the book is designed for environmentalists but "should be read carefully by foresters." In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Charles Solomon called Last Stand "a thoughtful account that is refreshingly free of … self-righteous posturing."

In an effort to put his environmental principles into practice, Manning decided to build his own house, a process he describes in A Good House: Building a Life on the Land. In this book, he offers a sort of how-to primer of homebuilding, with anecdotes on plumbing, wiring, and carpentry, as well as comments on environmentally friendly building methods and descriptions of the colorful characters who help him in the building process. According to Celeste F. Klein in Kliatt, this work "makes one more aware of the complexities of the environmental issues involved in the building of a house." A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews felt the book had "the potential to become a modern American classic."

Manning next wrote a history of the grasslands which once dominated the American West and Midwest, touching on the effects of imported livestock, one-crop farming, small farming, corporate farming, and the introduction of exotic grasses in eliminating what was once a vast ecosystem. Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie deals with such subjects as soil erosion, pesticide pollution, water depletion, and decreasing biodiversity. Manning also talks with botanists and biologists and visits the ranch of media mogul Ted Turner, who has declared his intention of reestablishing and preserving native grasslands. Manning would like to see this process initiated in all of the former grassland areas, with the cessation of plowing, the return of the buffalo, and the restoration of the original prairie grasses. "It's a grand, hopeful design," wrote Bob Schildgen in Sierra, "though selling the region on it would be a political and economic task as momentous as the restoration work itself."

Like Norman Maclean's A River Runs through It, Manning's One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot is set in the Big Blackfoot River country of Montana, where a proposed gold mine near the headwaters of the river has sparked an intense conflict between developers and environmentalists. According to a review by Philip Connors in Nation, Manning's "contribution to the story of the river Maclean made famous is every bit as heartbreaking as Maclean's novella, only this time we are left with the uncomfortable truth that it is we who have haunted our waters." Despite the encroachment of logging, mining, urban sprawl, and farming, Manning writes, the river still offers pristine areas which fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy. The cyanide process used in gold mining, he says, would create not only the danger of pollution of these areas, but also a huge, ugly pit too close to the river. "How can you ask me to trade clean rivers and my mountains for your Rolex watch?" he asks.

A critic in Kirkus Reviews observed that "it is Manning's special talent to raise landscapes … to exalted status through prose that is ardent and uncompromising." In the New York Times Book Review, Thomas McNamee noted that, in A Round River, Manning rejects the "the flintily independent rancher, the romantically self-reliant cowboy" and "the sturdy Paul-Bunyanesque woodsman" images which he believes have ruined the West in their emphasis on exploiting the land and water. Of the current threat to the Blackfoot River, Manning writes: "Gold is greed, a greed so set in our culture that our mythology preserves Midas and Croesus." McNamee concluded with a comment on Manning's true-believer stance: "Anger, dread and being right can numb their sufferers, but One Round River is so persuasively argued and so well written that its pain does scale the guilty soul."

In contrast to the heartfelt tone of One Round River, Manning's next work, Food's Frontier: The Next Green Revolution, "strikes a reserved, cerebral chord," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic. Sponsored by the McKnight Foundation, this book is a study of ways in which the so-called Green Revolution needs to be redefined. Manning argues for localized rather than global solutions to the world's food needs and describes several efforts in specific countries to do just that. One area of controversy which Manning explores is that of genetically modified foods—an idea which he says should not be dismissed out of hand. "Manning is right to point out that agriculture is an ecologically risky enterprise," wrote Margaret L. Zupancic in Commonweal, "and that genetic engineering is only one of many arguably 'unnatural' techniques currently in use." Although Zupancic felt that "Manning occasionally falls into the trap of romanticizing rural peasant life" and that his explanations of various research projects "rarely go into as much depth as one might like," she concluded that "Food's Frontier has real merit, if only for its willingness to take up the thorny and often neglected question of solving the world hunger problem." In Library Jour-nal, Tim McKimmie said that "Manning's book is not easily digested and often raises more questions than it answers" but that it "should be read … by agricultural researchers and policy makers as well as sociologists."

In Inside Passage: A Journey beyond Borders, Manning writes that the idea of "wilderness areas" is outdated—that civilization needs to impose ideas of environmental conservation from within in order to combat increasing environmental damage by overpopulation and industrialization, rather than just attempting to isolate areas of undeveloped land. Inside Passage examines the modern development of the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska, finding alarming evidence of overcut forests, disappearing native populations, overfishing, and overgrazing. He reserves special criticism for federal dam-building projects which, in their efforts to "tame" rivers, have all but destroyed the rivers' ecosystems. "The theme of nature's dynamism and human society's need to accommodate it permeates each essay," wrote Paul Larmer in the Christian Science Monitor. According to William Dietrich in the American Scientist, the book is "a well-written, well-researched, fast-moving survey of the environmental ills of the Pacific Northwest." Dietrich added, however, that Manning's idea of eliminating boundaries between civilization and wilderness to "regain ancient harmony" is "interesting as a philosophical point but vague as a basis for policy." Patricia Ann Owens in the Library Journal, on a more positive note, complimented Manning's "keen observation" and called the book "thought-provoking" and "a welcome addition to the environmental bookshelf."

In Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, Manning suggests that most of the world's problems share the same root: "catastrophic agriculture." As reliance on agriculture has concentrated power in just a few hands, industrialized farming has indirectly contributed to slavery, poverty, and political oppression. Manning makes the argument that farming—small-scale growing of needed products—is good, but agriculture—harvesting large quantities of food for the accumulation of wealth—is bad. According to the author, agribusiness controls what Americans ingest as well as how they power their fuel-inefficient lives. Manning encourages readers to take some time to search for small-scale farmers who only sell what they grow. Many critics of Manning's theories argue that large-scale agriculture is needed in order to feed the world's huge population. To that assertion Manning responds: "If the human endeavor takes as its primary reason for being the feeding of however many people issue from senseless acts of reproduction, then the human endeavor is pointless." In Natural History, Laurence A. Marschall described Manning's tone as "amiably grouchy," but called the book a "carefully crafted polemic."



Manning, Richard, One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Manning, Richard, Inside Passage: A Journey beyond Borders, Island Press (Washington, DC), 2001.

Manning, Richard, Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2004.


American Enterprise, June, 2005, Blake Hurst, "Farming … Who Needs It?," review of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, p. 56.

American Scientist, March, 2001, William Dietrich, "Taking It All: The World as Wilderness," p. 171.

Bloomsbury Review, October, 1992, George Sibley, review of Last Stand: Logging, Journalism, and the Case for Humility, p. 7.

Choice, April, 1992, C.E. Cheston, review of Last Stand, p. 1253.

Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2001, Paul Larmer, review of Inside Passage: A Journey beyond Borders, p. 20.

Commonweal, June 1, 2001, Margaret L. Zupancic, "Cross Fertilizations," p. 25.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1993, review of A Good House: Building a Life on the Land, p. 281; November 1, 1997, review of One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot, pp. 1626-1627; September 1, 2000, review of Food's Frontier: The Next Green Revolution, pp. 1264-1265.

Kliatt, July, 1994, Celeste F. Klein, review of A Good House, p. 38.

Library Journal, September 15, 2000, Tim McKimmie, review of Food's Frontier, p. 106; January 1, 2001, Patricia Ann Owens, review of Inside Passage, p. 148.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 10, 1993, Charles Solomon, review of Last Stand, p. 9; April 18, 1993, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of A Good House, p. 11.

Nation, February 23, 1998, Philip Connors, review of One Round River, pp. 31-34.

Natural History, June, 2004, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Against the Grain, p. 58.

New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1998, Thomas McNamee, "Filthy Lucre," p. 30.

Sierra, January-February, 1996, Bob Schildgen, review of Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie, p. 124.

Top Producer, October, 2004, John Phipps, "Agritopia Gone Wrong," review of Against the Grain.

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