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Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire Hardcover – March 10, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1 edition (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818271
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A historian of an aqueduct crucial to the nineteenth-century growth of New York City (Water for Gotham, 2000), Koeppel adopts infrastructure of comparable significance: the Erie Canal. Its economic impact––vaulting NYC over Philadelphia as the commercial capital of the U.S.––was ably recounted by business historian Peter Bernstein in Wedding of the Waters (2005); Koeppel adds greater emphasis in his narrative to the constellation of promoters and politicians who brought the canal into existence. Naturally, the name of DeWitt Clinton shines brightly, but who was Jesse Hawley? His story typified the mania for canal construction that swept America in the early 1800s: he was a bail-jumping upstate New Yorker with big ideas for improving transportation that he advocated in newspapers, and whose realization he witnessed when Clinton made his celebrated canal-opening voyage from Buffalo to Albany to New York in 1825. Similarly obscure but vital actors (such as legislators and engineers) in the Erie Canal saga populate Koeppel’s lively account, which ought to hook fans of construction-project dramas. --Gilbert Taylor


Named a A “Great Lakes, Great Reads” pick by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association

, 3/1/09

“[The Erie Canal’s] economic impact––vaulting NYC over Philadelphia as the commercial capital of the U.S.––was ably recounted by business historian Peter Bernstein in Wedding of the Waters (2005); Koeppel adds greater emphasis in his narrative to the constellation of promoters and politicians who brought the canal into existence…[A] lively account.”

Bob Kerrey, president of the New School, former U.S. Senator
"Every page of this exceptionally well written and researched book brings to light and life some story about some previously unknown individual or incident that shaped our present world beyond what I had known. Anyone who wants to understand the story of New York and how a single public works project transformed our country should read it."

Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun Professor of History at Columbia University and Director of the Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History, author of Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of New York City, and executive director of the New York Academy of History
"Visually, the Erie Canal was little more than an unimpressive little ditch. But in the development of the United States in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the Erie Canal was approximately as important as the Mississippi River and the Ohio River combined. Gerard Koeppel's Bond of Union is a sweeping narrative of the remarkable men who built a waterway and transformed a nation."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/1/09
“Koeppel's superb history shows that the canal, by more tightly drawing the states together through increased commerce, helped create the conditions for a continental nation. Now, as the nation readies public works projects to aid the plunging economy, it is instructive to examine what historian Paul Johnson has called ‘probably the outstanding example of a human artifact creating wealth rapidly in the whole of history.’”

Detroit Free Press, 3/15/09
“This engrossing account of an important achievement in U.S. history shows evidence of an awesome amount of research.”

Augusta Metro Spirit, 3/18/09
“Reminds readers of the importance of independent historical research in [a] world often inundated with information and yet often lacking serious consideration…The gripping tale of how the Erie Canal came to be…Offers an extensive view of an amazing structure…With detailed precision and smooth narrative chimes, Koeppel offers a fascinating look behind the scenes of one of the more impressive structures of American history…A highly acclaimed author already (Water for Gotham), Koeppel calls forth his next masterpiece by revitalizing a historical occasion that hasn’t seemed so relevant in a long time.”, 3/26
“A meticulously researched and exhaustive history…Bond of Union may end up being the last word on a story whose last word seemed to have been written long ago…Koeppel manages to tell a story that is at times fascinating, at times genuinely gripping, and at times surprisingly modern in the way it interweaves American politics with every bit of the planning and execution of a major construction project…Students of the byways of American history will find Bond of Union a fascinating tale of a bygone era whose political echoes, if nothing else, still resonate today.”

Athens News, 3/16/09
“If American history is of interest to you, you will find it well worth the reading.”, 4/5/09
“[Koeppel] takes his readers behind the scenes of political chicanery at several levels to show how support for the canal project often had little to do with a backer's ulterior motives.”

Tucson Citizen, 4/9/09
“This comprehensive history is lively, well researched and written by an author with a real talent for genuine story telling.”

Buffalo News, 4/12/09
“Koeppel makes it clear that the canal was the first great piece of American infrastructure, the major bond between the seaboard America and the vast continental interior.”

Schenectady Gazette, 4/12/09
“A complete, drily witty account of the design, financing, construction and operation of the Erie Canal…[Koeppel] is well-suited to revisit the story of the canal…[and has a] witty, jaunty writing voice…Among books about the Erie Canal, Koeppel’s is noteworthy for showing how astonishing it was that the project was started and succeeded.”

Smoke, 4/09
“Sheds new light on the politics, science, and rivalries that encompassed the creation of the Erie Canal.”

Irish America, July, 2009
“The Irish role in one of early America’s most important and ambitious construction projects is explored in Bond of Union."

Wesleyan, 2009
“This well-researched book tells the complete story of the creation of the Erie Canal, from its conception in 1807 to its completion in 1825, as it became the first great link between the American seaboard and the vast continental interior. Koeppel’s historical narrative involves a number of memorable individuals who were determined to see their visionary project succeed.”

“Talk of the Town,” WTVF TV (CBS, Nashville), 5/5/09
“Building America’s infrastructure is important to President Obama’s stimulus plan and this history of the Erie Canal demonstrates the widespread political, social, and economic benefits of that kind of policy from the early 1800’s through today.”

American History, August 2009
“A detailed, well-crafted look at how one big-idea infrastructure project changed a nation.”

Internet Review of Books, 5/22/09
“A detailed account of the construction of New York’s Erie Canal...The author skillfully paints a picture of the rough-hewn artificial river system of canals and locks…A fantastic tale that happens to be true, recounted by an author who knows how to bring that era back to life. Political history buffs will love every minute detail.”, June 2009
“Filled with interesting, passionate and determined characters…[and] all manner of drama.”

Niagara Gazette, 5/13/09
“A fascinating account of an engineering marvel that captured national attention in the early 1800’s.”

Reference and Research Book News, August 2009
“Koeppel strips away the myth established by repetition to give a clear-eyed and perceptive account of the creation of the Erie Canal and the strong-willed and determined characters who made it happen.”

Sacramento Book Review, 7/24/09
“A very well-researched account of a very impressive accomplishment…Koeppel shows how people with vision and initiative can overcome obstacles and achieve a goal, even over the opposition of others who are deficient in vision or initiative.”

Magill Book Review, October 2009
“A lively account of one of the most famous transportation projects in history and its impact upon America…Excellent…Explains why this waterway was necessary and how it was constructed…Fascinating…An enthralling tale of economic chaos, political intrigue, and monumental achievement. Bond of Union is history well worth reading.”

Bloomsbury Review, October 2009
“Monumental public works inspire—and typically deserve—grand exposure in books. The Erie Canal is no exception, even 184 years after its completion. This book is hardly the first to examine that feat, but it is one of the best…Bond of Union provides some useful new information…but shines mostly as an engaging narrative, stitching together the backstory and detailing the painful, step-by-step progress—and sometimes, lack thereof—as the grand ditch inched its way across the landscape.”

Journal of American History, December 2009
“A richly detailed account…A lively and often poignant account that is accessible to general readers and undergraduate students, while providing sufficient detail to engage historians…Koeppel reinvigorates this familiar story, deepening readers’ understanding of this crucial event in nineteenth-century America.”

Rome Sentinel, 1/6/10
“You’ll learn a lot about the Erie Canal…Or maybe unlearn some.”

Lima News, 12/27/10
“[A] compelling, sweeping narrative…Memorable characters…Koeppel unearths major new findings about the construction of the canal along with the surprising twists and turns of the bold venture.”

Choice, February 2010
“Departing from the standard sole praise for DeWitt Clinton, Koeppel adds many other names to the historical record…The book is well-researched and a good read about the various leaders of the effort, the various difficulties encountered while building the canal, and the backroom politics that swirled all around the project…Recommended.”, 3/2/10
“Engaging…This popular history of the Erie Canal is wonderfully written in a flowing narrative style, and Koeppel's research on the topic was obviously extensive as was hi...

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By L. B. Hughes on September 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the definitive story of the building of the Erie Canal, with prodigious research but still quite readable. We who like the nitty gritty will discover in the first few pages that this is the McCoy. He has done a lot of work on this thing, built a monument, and deserves congratulations.

Koeppel has a "warts and all" approach, which is a bit too heavy on the warts. He doesn't like most of the characters, e.g., chief engineer Benjamin Wright and Governor DeWitt Clinton. He also doesn't like Masons, Mormons, anyone who goes to church, and anyone who made money on the project. (How he thinks it could have been done without anyone making money, he does not say). Those 21st century prejudices are a flaw, however, when imposed on 19th century people, and serve no useful purpose except to inform the reader that the author is politically correct.

I think his characterization of Wright as an amateur civil engineer and homespun provincial is a mistake. He tells us twice, for instance, that Wright's sobriquet as "father of American civil engineering" was not awarded until 1969, to suggest his contemporaries would not have voted him the same honor. Most of his best contemporaries had been his pupils, and called Wright in for advice on later jobs, as Koeppel himself carefully records in this book...

In addition, the author doesn't mention Wright was a Mayflower descendant of inherited wealth, well educated at Litchfield, whose father and grandfather were Yale graduates, and whose father had been an officer in the continental army, promoted after the disastrous retreat from Long Island. Since such trivia about lesser figures was included in the book, my guess is that Koeppel was not aware of this background.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on June 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Erie Canal has been fabled in story and song, remember that ditty from grade school about the "low bridge, everybody down/low bridge for we're coming to a town." It proved to be one of the earliest and most effective public works projects in the early American republic. It linked New York City to the upper Midwest, and it secured economic supremacy for the city known to all of us now as the "Big Apple." Indeed, before the opening of the Erie Canal, Philadelphia was the dominant city in the United States. In no small manner, the canal changed the nature of the American nation.

"Bond of Union" is a very fine account of the building of the canal, as well as its meaning in American history. The author, a well-known journalist in New York who has written about water and its supply to the city, has a fine sense of drama and emphasizes the unique cast of characters in this story to advantage. This includes the ever intriguing Thomas Jefferson, New York governor DeWitt Clinton, surveyor John Randel, and Benjamin Wright, the "Father of American Civil Engineering." Politicians come into play, jockeying to ensure that the canal went through their constituents' towns and terminated where they stood the most to gain. A major fight took place over the western terminus, for example, and Black Rock was an early possibility. Have you never heard of Black Rock? If not, that's not surprising because the town eventually chosen, Buffalo, went on to grow into one of the largest cities in the nation while Black Rock was passed by.

Gerard Koeppel's account of the Erie Canal is first of all a very fine narrative, enjoyable and quite useful. It is not, a rigorous scholarly work that seeks to do anything more than tell a very entertaining and enlightening story. As a story it is superb. As an analytical work of history it has less value.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John H. Bacon on September 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire

As a life-long resident of Upstate New York I found this book very interesting. The Erie Canal is presented in school so simplistically that we simply assume everyone was on board to dig it and it was not challenge technically or politically. This book clearly traces the history of the politics and describes the many engineering feats that were accomplished by largely unschooled American surveyors and engineers. It also makes very clear that politics are no worse now then they were in colonial times. Can you imagine the fact that New York City legislators never once voted for support of the canal during any stage of its proposal or construction! I highly recommend reading this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roald Euller on May 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bond of Union, Gerard Koeppel

I have to confess up front that I had a difficult time getting through Bond of Union. Please note that my struggles did not affect my star rating. Bond of Union is a professionally researched book about a fascinating topic in American and NY State history. The author is supremely knowledgeable about his subject and it is clear to me that the book is a labor of love. Hence my rating of four stars, which is a high rating from me.

So what were my struggles? What I was hoping for was a book along the lines of David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas. A grand narrative history of canal building, except that the focus would be the Erie rather than Panama Canal. Instead, Bond of Union is a detailed analysis of the political maneuverings and infighting of Dewitt Clinton and a vast cast of characters during the early decades of the 1800s. If you are interested in accounts of debates within the NY State legislature, media duals between anonymous newspaper editorialists, and behind the scenes financial negotiations, then I can highly recommend Bond of Union, for it is meticulous in this regard. If you are looking for something written from more of an engineering perspective, then you may want to look elsewhere. All in all an excellent and professional effort, but not quite to my personal taste.
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