The good in barbed wire

Edward N. Luttwak reviews Barbed Wire: An ecology of modernity by Reviel Netz in the Times Literary Supplement:

Barbed_wireInvented and patented by Joseph F. Glidden in 1874, an immediate success in mass production by 1876, barbed wire, first of iron and then steel, did much to transform the American West, before doing the same in other prairie lands from Argentina to Australia. Actually, cheap fencing transformed the primordial business of cattle-raising itself. Solid wooden fences or even stone walls can be economical enough for intensive animal husbandry, in which milk and traction as well as meat are obtained by constant labour in stable and field to feed herbivores without the pastures they would otherwise need. Often the animals are tethered or just guarded, without any fences or walls. But in large-scale raising on the prairie or savannah, if there are no fences then the cattle must be herded, and that requires constant vigilance to resist the herbivore instinct of drifting off to feed and also constant motion. As the animals eat up the vegetation where they are gathered, the entire herd must be kept moving to find more. That is what still happens in the African savannah of the cattle herdsmen, and what was done in the American West as in other New World prairies, until barbed wire arrived to make ranching possible.

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