The Hudson River has always played a vital role in American culture. Flowing through a valley of sublime scenery, the great river uniquely connects America's past with its present and future. This book traces the course of the river through four centuries, recounting the stories of explorers and traders, artists and writers, entrepreneurs and industrialists, ecologists and preservationists--those who have been shaped by the river as well as those who have helped shape it. Their compelling narratives attest to the Hudson River's distinctive place in American history and the American imagination.
Among those who have figured in the history of the Hudson are Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Astors and the Vanderbilts, and Thomas Cole of the Hudson River school. Their stories appear here, alongside those of such less famous individuals as the surveyor who found the source of the Hudson and the engineer who tried to build a hydroelectric plant at Storm King Mountain. Inviting us to view the river from a wider perspective than ever before, this entertaining and enlightening book is worthy of its grand subject.
Lewis (Empire of the Air) examines the Hudson River region in nine short chapters that provide a pleasant read-but not a complete history-of the river. Discovered by European explorers looking for the "Northwest Passage," a fabled shortcut to the wealth of China, the area was passed back and forth between the Dutch and British for several centuries until Britain finally secured control via treaty in the late seventeenth century and maintained its hold of the area and its strategically valuable deep water ports until the American revolution. While much of this is well-known, Lewis has mined the archives for less familiar vignettes of colonial life, including the stories of the first American woman naturalist, Jane Colden, and Amos Eaton, the founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. However, Lewis barely touches on or bypasses major events (wars, for instance, are given only cursory mention), making this less a comprehensive history than a collection of essays on topics that, while relevant to the Hudson's history, seem to be picked at random. Thus, there is a chapter on the invention of steamboats, another on the Hudson River school of American art, and another on the rise of environmental consciousness. Lewis writes well, but readers piqued by this spotty history will be left wanting.
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Yale University Press
March 27, 2007
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