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August 14, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

MILES FROM NOWHERE: In Search of the American Frontier by Dayton Duncan (Penguin: $11.95; 320 pp., illustrated) and KILL THE COWBOY: A Battle of Mythology in the New West by Sharman Apt Russell (Addison-Wesley: $12; 217 pp.). Duncan roamed 132 counties in the contiguous states with fewer than two people per square mile, talking to the inhabitants. He argues that the Frontier didn't close, but has shifted from a linear boundary to a scattered collection of underpopulated areas. Duncan sees the beauty of the wide open spaces--and the social tensions in flyspeck towns where everyone knows everyone else's business. Huge tracts of land in the empty counties are administered by the Federal government, and Russell offers an informal introduction to the controversy over the use of these lands. The environmental consequences of grazing cattle on public land, the fees for grazing permits and the mis-administration of the BLM, the Forest Service, et al. are the focus of increasingly angry debates. Regrettably, Russell's examination devolves into a touchy-feely call for "Green Woman" spirituality that contributes precious little to an important policy question.

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