Time Magazine National Editor Michael Grunwald’s The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise was written nearly a decade ago but remains a timeless and important book for those interested in Florida to read. I originally finished the book on a transcontinental flight from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles in 2006. The book was a keeper and explained the background of so much of what I observed in politics between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s. For this reason, I intended to keep it handy and at my fingertips. Unfortunately, my dog Sebastian had other plans and he tore the book to pieces in a fashion that kids who look for excuses with submitting homework can only imagine.
But a few years later, I bought a Kindle and was able to repurchase the book in digital form. Thus, I have been able to reread the book on multiple occasions. Grunwald discusses how the Everglades and Florida south of Orlando was the last frontier in the continental United States. The western frontier was officially closed in 1890 but the “Florida frontier” persisted on for years, though not a designated “frontier” by the United States Government.
The story begins with Hamilton Disston a Philadelphia industrialist buying 4,000,000 acres of land and dreams of draining the Everglades. Disston went broke but his investments helped develop Kissimmee, St Cloud and Tarpon Springs as well as fueling the growth of St Petersburg into a major city.
As the population began to drift southward, Arcadia became a major frontier type town resembling what had been prevalent in the wild west in previous decades. Eventually Napoleon Bonaparte Broward who was Governor from 1901 to 1909 pushed for the draining of the Everglades and a new era was born. Channelization of rivers, building of canals and the resulting ecological damage is covered in depth.
The political discussions and culture around “reclaiming” the Everglades evolved over time and the narrative Grunwald paints gives a the reader a detailed feel for how Florida’s politicians and activists changed attitude wise towards the “River of Grass” between the 1920s and 1960s. It was a steady movement from drainage, to development to environmental consciousness.
Also covered in depth is the political battle over the creation of Biscayne National Park and the fight to prevent the building of the Everglades Jetport.
For anyone interested in Florida politics, the Everglades or the development of South Florida, this book is a must read.