From Publishers Weekly
In this lucid cultural history of Maine, journalist Woodard tells the story of the rugged people who inhabit the state's coastal fishing communities, beginning with the Scotch-Irish, Germans and migrants from southern New England who from the early 17th to the early 19th centuries struggled to make a living in an inhospitable environment while trying to fend off Indians, religious zealots, wealthy Bostonian land grabbers and "rusticators" (vacationers who spawned unwanted development). Maine's economy prospered for a while after it seceded from Massachusetts and became a state in 1820, but between 1860 and 1900 everything collapsed except for lobstering, which the fishermen managed to protect with effective conservation practices. Lobsters became, and remain, the basis of the state's fishing industry. The author was born and raised in Maine, and well understands the pride, independence and ability to work together for the good of the community-(traditions derived from the early settlers, he says), which helped the fishermen preserve a resource that is essential to their livelihood. But, he points out, other factors are now at play, for the state is being overrun by suburbanites who don't understand or respect this tradition. Woodard tries to maintain hope that the old spirit of independence will save the state's distinctive character, but he can't help ending on a discouraging note, wondering whether Maine will soon be just one more suburb in the great East Coast megalopolis. Woodard (Ocean's End) covers a lot of ground in his informative book, and he never fails to make the story engaging. Maps not seen by PW.
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Woodard synthesizes the history and ponders the future of Maine, land of lobsters and L. L. Bean. His text both begins and concludes with Monhegan Island, an interesting place where one of the earliest English colonizers anchored and whose inhabitants today cater to tourists in the summer and to lobstermen in the winter. It's a microcosm of wider themes in Maine history. Woodard ably develops them, showing off the state as a climatically difficult place to prosper that consistently over its history has existed in a quasi-colonial relationship with outside economic interests. Thus, the present-day suburbanization of the coast succeeds earlier forms of influence emanating from Massachusetts, such as the land-grasping magnates of the late 1700s known as the "Great Proprietors" or the city-escaping pioneers of vacationing of the mid-1800s. The author of Ocean's End (2000), a report on environmental degradation, Woodard also delivers hands-on details about the practice and culture of lobstering, a thriving exception to the collapse of the Gulf of Maine fishery. A fond but concerned portrait of the author's native state. Gilbert Taylor
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