The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism. By Adam Rome. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 299 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-80490-5).
In a time where many suburban mothers are choosing which type of bottled water to purchase based on the recyclability of the plastic, Adam Rome comes into his arena with a book that shakes the casual environmental activist to the core. In this book, Rome uses the post-World War II construction boom to show the reader that the push for mass consumerism is negatively impacting the environment. For his example, Rome shows how the housing market created a suburban sprawl that was not at all environmentally friendly.
Rome shows that although it was obvious that the bulldozers were creating havoc with the countryside, it was much more than that. The excessive use of the septic tank per square mile in suburbia caused a pollution of the surrounding soil and groundwater with the waste by-products of the suburbanites, for example. He also shows that although solar homes were on the construction boards for a while, they were soon replaced by a market driven electric home complete with electric stoves, electric heat, and air conditioning. These tract homes were a quick way to home ownership, which created the illusion of the American Dream, yet it was quickly becoming a nightmare creating flooding, erosion, and poor land-use policies. Jared Orsi’s review says that Rome coherently shows the juxtaposition of the “inability to reconcile consumerism, domesticity, and the American dream with energy consumption, waste disposal, climate control and land use.”
Additionally, Rome brings land use ethics into his work. He shows his reader how Americans were starting to connect the dots, slowly recognizing the long-term effects of homebuilding on the environment. Throughout Chapter 7, Rome shows how federal, state, and local governments chose to create land-use regulations. Aldo Leopold said “land ethic required a deeply felt obligation to something larger than society” (253). Therefore, Rome’s book creates a challenge for every American to look inside themselves to see where they truly stand on this issue. Christopher Sellers said that there is room for “soul-searching about how best to make a case for nature’s role” in our future endeavors.
Sellers also says that in a time when the emphasis of environmentalists seems to be only on resource extraction that Rome’s book clearly shows how we have all been diverted from the history of the effects of our own consumption. For that reason, any student of architecture, environmental science, petroleum engineering, or construction trades should read this book in addition to students of environmental history. Adam Rome’s work in this area is absolutely relevant for our time and should spawn a more longitudinal plan that he accurately shows did not occur in the post-World War II era when the bulldozer clearly decimated the countryside.
Jared P. Orsi, review of The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, by Adam Rome, The Journal of American History, Vol. 89, No. 2 (2002): 718-719.
 Christopher Sellers, review of The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, by Adam Rome, Environmental History, Vol. 8, No. 1 (2003): 141-143.