National Book Award Finalist

Running out: In search of water on the high plains by Lucas Bessire

The Ogallala aquifer has nourished life on the American Great Plains for millennia. But less than a century of unsustainable irrigation farming has taxed much of the aquifer beyond repair. The imminent depletion of the Ogallala and other aquifers around the world is a defining planetary crisis of our times. Running Out offers a uniquely personal account of aquifer depletion and the deeper layers through which it gains meaning and force. To make sense of aquifer loss, anthropologist Lucas Bessire journeyed back to western Kansas, where five generations of his family lived as irrigation farmers and ranchers. His search for water across the drying High Plains brings the reader face to face with the stark realities of industrial agriculture, eroding democratic norms, unreliable memories and surreal interpretations of a looming disaster. Yet the destination is far from predictable, as the book seeks to move beyond the genres through which destruction is often known. Instead, this journey reveals how aquifer depletion is a total social fact for our times. Running Out offers a series of unexpected discoveries about what it means to inherit the troubled legacies of the past and reckon with the competing urgencies of environmental change in order to take responsibility for a more inclusive, sustainable future. 

Published by Princeton University Press, 2021. Publisher’s Page is Here. 

Guest Editor, Anthropology Now, Volume 13, Number 1, April, 2021.

Where Do We Go From Here? Anthropology Now, 13:1, 1-10

Lucas Bessire is currently associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. 

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