Category Archives: Books

The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers


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the heroic age of diving book coverIn The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie (SUNY Press Excelsior Editions, 2016),  Jerry Kuntz shares the fascinating stories of the pioneers of underwater invention and the brave divers who employed the new technologies as they raced with – and against – marine engineers to salvage the tragic wrecks of Lake Erie.

Beginning in 1837, some of the most brilliant engineers of America’s Industrial Revolution turned their attention to undersea technology. Inventors developed practical hard-helmet diving suits, as well as new designs of submarines, diving bells, floating cranes, and undersea explosives. These innovations were used to clear shipping lanes, harvest pearls, mine gold, and wage war. Continue reading

The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden


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the enlightenment of cadawaller coldenWas there a conservative Enlightenment? Could a self-proclaimed man of learning and progressive science also have been an agent of monarchy and reaction?

Cadwallader Colden (1688–1776), an educated Scottish emigrant and powerful colonial politician, was at the forefront of American intellectual culture in the mid-eighteenth century.

While living in rural New York, he recruited family, friends, servants, and slaves into multiple scientific ventures and built a transatlantic network of contacts and correspondents that included Benjamin Franklin and Carl Linnaeus. Over several decades, Colden pioneered colonial botany, produced new theories of animal and human physiology, authored an influential history of the Iroquois, and developed bold new principles of physics and an engaging explanation of the cause of gravity. Continue reading

Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War


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Can history help us solve the present-day political and cultural crisis in the United States?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we investigate whether the past might help us with the present with Rachel Shelden, author of Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War (UNCPress, 2013).  You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/078

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The True Tales That Inspired American Folk Songs


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hear my sad story book coverIn Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditinal American Folk Songs (Cornell University Press, 2015), Richard Polenberg describes the historical events that led to the writing of many famous American folk songs that served as touchstones for generations of American musicians, lyricists, and folklorists.

Those events, which took place from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, often involved tragic occurrences: murders, sometimes resulting from love affairs gone wrong; desperate acts borne out of poverty and unbearable working conditions; and calamities such as railroad crashes, shipwrecks, and natural disasters. All of Polenberg’s accounts of the songs in the book are grounded in historical fact and illuminate the social history of the times. Continue reading

Lafayette: Hero of Two Worlds, Champion of Liberty


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lafayette book coverHe used civil disobedience before Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. made it a thing. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, French aristocrat and military officer, fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War and influenced America’s founding fathers on issues like slavery and capital punishment.

Veteran journalist and self-proclaimed Lafayette historian Donald Miller’s seventh book, Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy (iUniverse, 2015) looks in depth at one of the most influential men in French and American history. Continue reading

The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton


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prince of darkness_MECH_01.inddShane White’s book Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) is the story of 19th century business man Jeremiah Hamilton, who overcame adversity and discrimination to become one of the wealthiest men of his time, earning a fortune of $2 million, valued at $250,000 million in today’s world.

This is a historical account of an African American man who held his own in the business world, bought a mansion in rural New Jersey, and owned railroad stock on trains he wasn’t legally allowed to ride. Cornelius Vanderbilt, America’s first tycoon, came to respect, grudgingly, his one-time opponent. Continue reading

Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution


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ben_franklins_worldWhat did it mean to be a citizen during the late-18th and early-19th centuries?

Why and how did early American sailors seem intent on proving their citizenship to the United States?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore citizenship and maritime life during the Age of Revolutions with Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, author of Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (Belknap Press, 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/076

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Brooklyn Heights: An Industrial History


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brooklyn heights book coverRobert Furman’s book Brooklyn Heights: the Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb (The History Press, 2015) is a substantial illustrated history of Brooklyn. The book takes a look at the moving forces of history, and shows that technology is the great creator and destroyer, especially in the rise and fall of cities.

Brooklyn was once a great industrial city, like many others. It was enabled by transportation technology: steam ferries, railroads, canals. It was once the largest freight port in the world, in particular in Red Hook’s Atlantic and Erie Basins. They were the discharging end of the Erie Canal, and later expanded into international shipping. Continue reading