How a leading writer of the Lost Generation became America’s most famous farmer and inspired the organic food movement.
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway or Fitzgerald. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio, realizing that dream would cost him everything: his family, his fortune, his reputation. On his deathbed, he considered himself a failure, dismissing his struggle to revolutionize American agriculture as “ludicrous,” even “pathetic.” Yet the ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America’s first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture, a fascinating, hilarious and unclassifiable character who—between writing and plowing—also dabbled in global politics and high society. Through it all, he fought for an agriculture that would enrich the soil and protect the planet. While Bromfield’s name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before.
Pittsburgh based writer Stephen Heyman has written for the New York Times, Slate, Vogue, and many other publications. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the National Endowment for the Humanities.