Notable Book Review – Survival of Rural America: Small Victories and Bitter Harvests

Reviewed by Marcia Allen, Manhattan Public Library, Kansas Notable Books Committee

Why do some small towns thrive while others dwindle away to clusters of abandoned buildings? Author Richard Wood, who grew up in rural Kansas, wanted to find the answer to that question, and in doing so, identified trends that spelled the end for many small communities. The rapid growth of transportation, the decline of the family farm, and the loss of a railroad hub are major causes of decline. But such events do not always spell failure. Some towns have survived through remarkable planning. Wood cites communities which have formed their own private schools, attracting both teachers and students from other areas. And he speaks of admirable efforts that have lured new industries to rural areas.

Wood enlivens his book with accounts from actual Kansas communities. He cites the declining population of Ellsworth County, for example, a direct result of the movement away from family farming. But Wood also describes the success of the citizens of Plainville, who having lost most of their local businesses, contacted Chuck Comeau and convinced him to set up a manufacturing center for quality home furnishings on their dying main street.

Wood has done an admirable job of researching his material. Fascinating tales of small Kansas communities offer a drama which appeals to any Kansan concerned about the fate of the state. This is insightful reading for anyone concerned about the future of rural America.

A video and picture gallery from the Richard Wood’s lecture at the Dole Institute on June 16, 2009 is available at the Institute web site:
Dole Institue Video