Most helpful positive review
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Impressive book about an impressive public work
on March 7, 2006
For too many people, the Erie Canal was simply an artificial waterway that opened the American west (back then) to the Atlantic, and, in the process made New York City a business entrepot. Carol Sheriff, in her book, "The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862" digs a lot deeper to reveal the complexities of "Clinton's Big Ditch". There were the engineering problems to be surmounted. There were financial considerations. There were the legal knots that plagued the Canal Commission. The relationship--even the definitions--of nature, art and technology became blurred to so many people.
But what I came away with the most was the utter chaos and disturbance the building and maintenance of the canal created. This was not a harmonious public work, dug by noble laborers, which enriched the lives and purses of the enitre populace. Instead, as Professor Sheriff demonstrates, there was a great deal of strife between the canal builders and the local residents. The wealth went to the few, and the builders got nothing--not even praise or thanks. This, in turn, created a new class of anonymous laborers which was counterpoint to the ideals of Republicanism. And, as Sheriff points out, DeWitt Clinton would have shook his head in disbelief, had he known this would have happened.
As a whole, however, "The Artificial River" reminds us of the tremendous efforts that went into the making of the Erie Canal. And equally impressive, is the tremendous effort Professor Sheriff put into this well-researched and quickly paced book.