Lawn Care For A Beginner? Book Recommendations?

Hello all,
Something came over me this year and I am on a mission to have a healthy lawn. Over the past few years the lawn at our house has been wasting away. The back of the yard has "dirt spots" as well call them. There are spots in the yard that completely have no grass at all and the spots that do have grass is very healthy. I am not sure what the problem is. The grass in our front yard basically just does not grow and is very thinned out. Well, this summer / year, I want to get our yard back in shape. So I am coming to you all for your advice on how I should get started. I really have never worked on a lawn before so I would define myself as a beginner. Your advice would be helpful and I am also looking for book recommendations. I am willing to learn and practice and hopefully develop my studies into an interesting hobby. To give you some background, I live in southern/central Illinois (about 30 miles from st louis).
Thanks for your suggestions and advice, -EB
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My SWAG from your description is that you're probably dealing with a combination of drought in that region in the last few years, and probably soil compaction, and probably some bad mowing, and maybe the wrong lawn grasses for your conditions.
My very favorite book for beginning gardeners is Rodales' Chemical-Free Yard and Garden, by Anna Carr et al. See: (Amazon.com product link shortened)
It starts with examining your soil, and figuring out what's going on with it, then improving the soil, choosing plants that are well adapted to the area and how much work you want to put in on them, and correct cultural practices like mowing. It's clearly written, and there's nothing in it recommended that will do you or your lawn any harm. My sole reservation about some of the recommendations for "organic sources of plant nutrients" is that some are more expensive than need be if you choose to garden by the LISA model (Low-input, sustainable agriculture) rather than by the strictly organic model. And yes, I garden on the LISA model.
Also, check with your state's extension service and with local botanical gardens (you've got one of the premier botanical gardens in the US, Missouri Botanical, in St. Louis). They can give you suggestions on strains of lawn grasses that are well adapted to your area (why drive yourself nuts trying to grow something that doesn't grow well in your area and soil?) and can point you at resources like soil testing labs.
Some extension service links for your area: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/lawnchallenge / http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/hort /
Kay Lancaster snipped-for-privacy@fern.com
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Hmmm,
I will bookmark and look at those links and purchase that book or try to find it at my local library.
Thanks for the suggestions,
EB

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