Like many historical events, the American Revolution is often shrouded in romantic myth and stubborn stereotypes. Perhaps no event offers a better example than General George Washington’s famous crossing of icy Delaware River on Christmas night to lead the Continental Army’s defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey, an event which revived the flickering morale American revolutionaries.
In George Washington’s Surprise Attack: A New Look at the Battle That Decided the Fate of America (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), Phillip Thomas Tucker attempts to parse fiction from fact. He provides an in-depth look (more than 600 pages, with notes) at the events of the Battle of Trenton, presenting new insights and analysis about a battle that holds a mythical place in American national history. Continue reading
Author Kenneth W. Rendell has gathered 50 of the most important and iconic documents of World War II in Poltics, War, and Personality: Fifty Iconic World War II Documents that Changed the World (Whitman Publishing; 2014).
With the assistance of more than 150 archival images and photographs, Rendell tells the stories of these documents which foreshadowed, announced, or altered the course of war. The book features a foreword by the late John S.D. Eisenhower, son of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Continue reading
Vermonters have always been proud that their state was the first to outlaw slavery in its constitution—but is that what really happened?
In a new book, The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 (Vermont Historical Society, 2014), historian Harvey Amani Whitfield challenges this myth by showing that the enslavement of African Americans continued in Vermont for another 30 years, even as anti-slavery sentiment continued to swell.
The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 will be enlightening to Vermont teachers and students, scholars of the early national and antebellum periods of U.S. history, and anyone interested in the history of Vermont. The book can be purchased at the website of the Vermont Historical Society. Continue reading
Following five years of planning, research, writing and design, the Warrensburgh Historical Society has released Warrensburg, New York: 200 Years of People, Places and Events (2014) in honor of the town’s Bicentennial Celebration.
Spearheaded by Town Historian Sandi Parisi, the effort involved more than 20 volunteers. The 184-page soft-cover book, laid out as an encyclopedia of Warrensburg history, contains more than 300 photographs and a 19-page index with over 2,300 listings. Continue reading
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York (Simon & Schuster, June 2014) is Ted Steinberg’s sweeping ecological history of one of the most man-made spots on earth, from Mannahatta to Hurricane Sandy.
This is a heavily researched and well-written book that recounts the four-century history of how hundreds of square miles of open marshlands became home to six percent of the nation’s population – that’s 64,464 people per square mile.
Steinberg brings a unique view of the metropolitan area, not just one of a dense urban goliath but as an estuary once home to miles of oyster reefs, wolves, whales and blueberry thickets. That world gave way to an onslaught of humanity managed by thousands of ecological actors from Governor John Montgomerie, who turned water into land, and John Randel, who imposed a grid on Manhattan, to Robert Moses, Charles Urstadt, Donald Trump, and Michael Bloomberg. Continue reading
This spring Simon & Schuster will publish Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller, the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of several books about World War II. Miller also wrote the bestseller City of Century about Chicago, and his book Masters of the Air is currently in production with Spielberg and Hanks at HBO.
As its subtitle proclaims, the book examines how midtown Manhattan rose to become the nation and world’s capital of commerce and culture via mass communication – radio, film, music, printing – as well as architecture, spectator sports, and organized crime during the roaring 1920s. Continue reading
TRAIN: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World-from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief (Viking, 2014) takes a global inventory of railroads while weaving a light history of this important mode of transportation and telling an entertaining story of an around-the-world rail journey by author Tom Zoellner.
From the birth of the locomotive in Cornwall, England, to traveling along the frozen trans-Siberian railroad with a past as dark as the arctic sky, and crisscrossing the antiquated yet magnificent Indian Railways, the world’s eighth largest employer, TRAIN examines the mechanics of these grandiose machines, and the impact on the societies through which they run. Continue reading
Posts here on The New York History Blog reveal a lot about the creativity and leadership of the individuals who direct the programs that comprise New York’s historical enterprise. Creativity, broadly defined, refers to derivation of new ideas that help organizations do existing work better or take on new things. Leadership is mostly about strengthening programs and guiding them into the future.
Creative leaders, said an IBM study a few years ago, “embrace the dynamic tension between creative disruption and operational efficiency… encourage others to drop outmoded approaches and take balanced risk.” They “embark on transforming tomorrow into what was once never thought possible.”
Many of our programs could benefit from that kind of boost.
Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image (Viking, 2014) by Joshua Zeitz is an intimate look into Abraham Lincoln’s White House through the lives of two men. But more than that, it tells the story of the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, and how we have to come receive the idea of who Lincoln was that we have today.
Zeitz argues that Lincoln’s official secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, enjoyed more access, witnessed more history, and knew Lincoln better than anyone outside of the president’s immediate family, in short, they were Lincoln’s closest confidantes. They read poetry and attended the theater with the President, commiserated with him over Union army setbacks, and plotted electoral strategy in the darkest and loneliest days of the war. They were present at every seminal event, from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address. After his death, they took control of his papers, his biography, and his image. Hay and Nicolay were the gatekeepers of the Lincoln’s legacy. Continue reading
Ever wonder what pristine runs of migratory fish in Atlantic rivers looked like to early colonists? Some saw so many salmon, shad, alewives and other species that they said the waters “ran silver” with fish as they swam upstream to spawn.
John Waldman’s Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations (Lyons Press, 2013) covers the biology, history, and conservation of shad, salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, eels and the others that complete grand migrations between fresh and salt waters. Continue reading
After six years research, retired genealogist, one-time teacher, and journalist Alethea “Lee” Connolly has published The Seceders: Religious Conviction & the Abolitionist Movement in the Town of Manlius, 1834-1844 (2013). The book makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the very early abolitionist movement in Onondaga County, and its interactions with similar movements in Madison, Cayuga, and Oneida counties.
Motivated by deep religious values of justice and human dignity, the men and women covered in this book defied local resistance and social pressures. They refused to be silenced in their anti-slavery beliefs. Town of Manlius Historian, Barbara S. Rivette, has called the book “an amazing feat of research.” Continue reading
Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.
Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading
In A Stripe of Tammany’s Tiger (Cornell University Press, 1966, 2013 Reprint), Louis Eisenstein, a Tammany precinct captain from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sets out with his coauthor Elliot Rosenberg to chronicle the evolution—or rather devolution—of New York City politics through the first seven decades of the twentieth century.
Eisenstein imbues his lively narrative with an overarching theme: that personal interactions and good faith between those at all levels of power are of paramount importance both for sustained political success and for competent municipal administration. Continue reading
During the critical Battle of Oriskany in August 1777, Continental forces led by General Nicholas Herkimer defeated the British army under St. Leger in the heart of New York’s Mohawk Valley. It was a hard-won victory, but he and his troops prevented the British from splitting the colonies in two.
In The Battle of Oriskany and General Nicholas Herkimer: Revolution in the Mohawk Valley (History Press, 2013), Paul Boehlert presents a gripping account of the events before, during and after this critical battle. Continue reading
The War of 1812, sometimes called “America’s forgotten war,” was a curious affair. At the time, it was dismissed as “Mr. Madison’s War.”
Later it was hailed by some as America’s “Second War for Independence” and ridiculed by others, such as President Harry Truman, as “the silliest damned war we ever had.” The conflict, which produced several great heroes and future presidents, was all this and more.
In America’s First Crisis: The War of 1812 (SUNY Press, 2014) Robert P. Watson tells the stories of the battles and leaders and shares the blunders and victories of the war. What started out as an effort to invade Canada, fueled by anger over the harassment of American merchant ships by the Royal Navy, soon turned into an all-out effort to fend off an invasion by Britain. Continue reading
On December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad’s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie.
In a dramatic historical narrative, Charity Vogel tells the gripping, true-to-life story of the wreck and the characters involved in the tragic accident in The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads (Cornell University Press, 2013). Continue reading
The award winning book, Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor has been updated and reissued in paperback. In Heartbeats, author John Waldman covers the arc of history of New York Harbor from its pristine origins through the ravages of the industrial era to its remarkable comeback today.
First published in 1999, the volume won a New York Society Library Award. The revision includes an epilogue that brings the story of the Harbor to 2012, the 40th Anniversary of the critically important Clean Water Act, and includes the ambitious ongoing oyster restorations; alien species such as Asian shore crabs, zebra mussels, and snakehead fish; the effects of climate change; rehabilitation of the legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, and even a return of bald eagles to Manhattan. Waldman’s work on New York Harbor also resulted in a Norcross Wildlife Conservation Award and, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Conservation Award. Continue reading
In Fordham University & the United States: A History (E-Lit Books, 2013), Debra Caruso Marrone delivers a breezy, informative book for American history lovers and anyone associated with the 172-year-old institution.
Founded as St. John’s College in 1841 by New York Archbishop John Hughes, the university began as a vehicle to educate young men and deliver Catholics to the upper class. Continue reading
Using previously unstudied Coast Guard records from 1920 to 1933 for New York City and environs, Ellen NicKenzie Lawson’s Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City (SUNY Press, 2013) examines the development of Rum Row and smuggling via the coasts of Long Island, the Long Island Sound, the Jersey shore, and along the Hudson and East Rivers.
With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, “drying up” New York City promised to be the greatest triumph of the proponents of Prohibition. Instead, the city remained the nation’s greatest liquor market. Continue reading
Munsee Indian Trade in Ulster County, New York 1712-1732 (Syracuse Univ Press, 2013), edited by Kees-Jan Waterman and J. Michael Smith offers the full, annotated translation of a recently discovered Dutch account book recording trade with Native Americans in Ulster County, New York, from 1712 to 1732.
The ledger contains just over two-thousand transactions with about two-hundred native individuals. Slightly more than one-hundred Indians appear with their names listed. The volume and granularity of the entries allow for detailed indexing and comparative analysis of the people and processes involved in these commercial dealings in the mid-Hudson River Valley. Continue reading