The Lives of People on the Contested Region in On the Edge, a Book by Char Miller

Categories: Geography

This book titled On the Edge was written by Char Miller to address how people live on a contested land that is not humanly possible to dwell in. The writer was informed by the abundant amount of time spent living and crisscrossing the Southwest part of America that runs from Los Angeles to San Antonio. The writer closely examines and studies the borderland area by assuming the position of a person who would rather be a native and then makes the contemplation of some of the probable conflicts that might arise.

Char Miller examines issues that arise internally for natives in the USA states and those at the northern tier of Mexico. Some of these internal issues include water shortages, undocumented records of immigrants, criminal activities going on at the border and finally the issue of the borderline region slowly evolving into becoming an inhabitable place for human beings. This book tries to investigate how people survive living in such a contested region.

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Char Miller investigates how the natives can turn the place from an arid terrain that has an ecosystem that can easily burn into ashes by a single strike of a matchstick, and when it rains too floods to its limit. The author describes the region as being able to defy human interventions of trying to nestle within its canyons, foothills, and washes. He explores the environmental and historical framework of the Southwest by making an exploration into some of the challenges faced by those living within the complex ecosystem of the Southwest.

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These two, according to the author, will lead to an understanding critical to get an in-depth analysis of the political framework. The political framework is important in building a society that is generous, an ecosystem that is habitable and creation of a community that is just.

The book has greatly helped the reader to contextualize what the topic under the discussion is. There is a clear revelation of the deep-rooted connection that exists between culture and nature. Miller advocates for the protection of the environment while on the hand he also provides timely and thought-provoking writing that blends political issues, history, and culture. Char Miller has weaved the American Southwest history and the current developments into something that will shape the future on how the region’s natives will live in collaboration with nature?. This piece of writing provides meditation opportunity on how people can coexist in their ecosystem. The book relays concrete insights that can be considered regarding the environmental issues and creation of habitable cities that can foster cultural, historical and political aspects associated with Southwest. The book itself invites the reader to consider engaging in activities related to political discourse creation. The author has intelligently invited a serious conversation on how we think about the places we call home.

The author has used various sources in trying to unearth the historical aspects American Southwest. For example, in addressing the issue of reclaiming a sense of place, he uses accounts of Michael Pollan who recounted how he dug his garden in Connecticut and realized that earlier hands had laid interest on their garden. He uses other authors’ materials too, like that of Penelope Lively who wrote City of the Mind where he portrays that names of hometowns, streets, and bus routes have no embedded meaning that can be retrieved from them. This kind of usage of sources is a narrative kind of analysis. This is because Char Miller relies heavily on other materials done by other authors. He also borrows the primary sourcing methodology to some of his thoughts in the book. He talks of various topographies in trying to unearth the hidden meaning behind names. He manages to bring home the full description of Fleet River by employing such primary sourcing. Another evidence to support the narrative approach that Miller has used in sourcing his information is when he quotes geographer Tuan’s words in explaining the concept of sense of place. The author has primarily described the Chappaquiddick Island and explained well the history of what happened to Ted Kennedy and the historical shape-shifting instability trait of Chappy“.

The author has stated three numerous ways in which meaning can be attached to the landscapes that humans occupy: Physical, historical or personal. The three become the organizing principles of the various essays laid out in the book by the author. The author has managed to organize the chapters in such a way that the script navigates from the Gulf of Mexico and to the coast of Pacifics. The author has used the turbulent waters from the two coasts to frame the narrative structure and geographical orientation that the book has taken. He has narrated how the hurricanes that slammed the New Orleans, Texas and West Coast harbor and beach in such a way that the historical aspects of such places have been brought into the limelight. The San Antonio way of life has exhaustively been handled by the author because the author states that he dwelled in the city for more than 20 years. He has managed to explain in detail how one can be able to realize how the transformative power existing in the boundary of the US and Mexico is developing. He says that the struggles associated with the natives of the border are almost similar to those faced by urban counterparts. Miller says that realizing this kind of interpretation requires one to know about location, history and hidden interplay.

The author of the book, Char Miller who is a former professor of history at the Trinity University is a taut, and intelligent writer. This makes this piece of writing worth the time for many students of history and also those interested in doing analytical works. Regarding environmental issues, which the book has also handled in depth, the author is a professor specializing in the Environmental Analysis at Pomona College. He has authored other books that have won him a lot of awards. Some of these award-winning books include Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism, Public Lands/Public Debates: A Century of Controversy and Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas. He has edited many other articles to with San Antonio and areas around the American Southwest, and this explains why he is not new in this topic. The writer has gained a long-term interest in studying San Antonio and neighboring areas. He has edited the following article; On the Border: An Environmental History of San Antonio and Fifty Years of the Texas Observer.


  1. Miller, Char. 2013. On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest. San Antonio: Trinity University Press.

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The Lives of People on the Contested Region in On the Edge, a Book by Char Miller. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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