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Niagara: A History of the Falls Hardcover – January, 1997
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Sometimes a place can be as good a subject for a "biography" as a person--and Niagara Falls turns out to be such a place. Fortunately, it found its ideal biographer in Canadian historian Pierre Berton, who chronicles its colorful history with a storyteller's verve. Niagara Falls was a sort of laboratory and breeding ground for a wide variety of American phenomena: carnivals and theme parks, destination tourism, industrialization based on cheap hydroelectric power, and the conservation movement, among others. Berton weaves all this together in a readable, well-paced book rich with anecdotes, memorable characters, and nicely crafted language.
From Publishers Weekly
The first Europeans to see Niagara Falls were struck with an awe akin to terror, but with the passage of a couple of centuries the site came to be regarded as the ultimate symbol of God's creative power. Even Charles Dickens, who didn't think much of what he found on this side of the Atlantic, was deeply moved. In the 19th century, the American side of the falls became a Mecca for honeymooners, first luring the rich and then the middle class as well. Later in that century, the unparalleled opportunity for hydroelectric power, combined with the development of alternating current, which meant that electricity could be sent over long distances, brought a wealth of industrial development. Canadian historian Berton (The Wild Frontier) tells dozens of absorbing tales about the region and those who passed through it: the "funambulist" Blondin, who danced on a tightrope high above the chasm; John Roebling, better known for the Brooklyn Bridge than for the one he built to span the Niagara River; the adventurers and crackpots who went over the falls in barrels; the lengthy struggle to close the Love Canal toxic waste dump. He tells them all superbly, aided by essential maps and a few reproductions of posters advertising some of the more bizarre stunts.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Much of what Berton recounts in his book is anecdotal, but all in all it is an excellent and informative read. I took one star off because the pictures in the book really aren't very high quality, but the writing is top-notch.
For people who aren't from the area (I lived in NE Ohio), imagine the story of Las Vegas from the time of the Rat Pack up to the opening of the Bellagio. That mirrors our society's changes in taste, entertainment, attitudes about gambling and sex ("what happens here, stays here"), and extravagence. Turn back a few decades, set the stage next to a natural wonder of the world - and you've got this book.