It's hard to believe, now that it's been overrun by 7 million residents and 7 jillion strip malls, but southern Florida was once America's last frontier. As late as 1880, the census recorded just 257 residents in a county covering most of the region -- because most of the region was a watery wilderness called the Everglades. Mapmakers weren't sure whether to draw it as land or water. Politicians dismissed it as uninhabitable swampland. Explorers described it as a "godforsaken" and "hideous" and "abominable" morass, "suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilential reptiles." When …
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Michael Grunwald, a senior national correspondent at Time Magazine, is the author of The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise.