Category Archives: Books

TRAIN: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World


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train-zom-zoellnerTRAIN: 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

Bruce Dearstyne: Creativity and Leadership


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Creativity in Museum PracticePosts 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.

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John Hay and John Nicolay:
Gatekeepers of Lincoln’s Legacy


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9781101638071_p0_v4_s260x420Lincoln’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

Environmental History:
The Great Atlantic River Fish Migrations


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Running SilverEver 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

New Book Features Early Onondaga Co. Abolitionism


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SecedersAfter 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

NYC’s Water Supply:
An Environmental and Political History


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Empire of Water  - History of NYC Water SupplySupplying 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

Reprint of ‘A Stripe of Tammany’s Tiger’ Issued


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Stripe of Tammany's TigerIn 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

The Battle of Oriskany and General Nicholas Herkimer


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image001(7)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: America’s First Crisis


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americas first crisis - the war of 1812The 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

The Angola Horror:
The Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation


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Angola HorrorOn 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 History, Sea Life, and Environment of NY Harbor


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Heartbeats in the MuckThe 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

New Book: A History of Fordham University


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image005(1)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

Smugglers, Bootleggers and Scofflaws:
Prohibition and New York City


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Smugglers BootleggersUsing 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


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Munsee Indian Trade in Ulster CountyMunsee 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

Books: A Memoir of Ticonderoga in Great Depression


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Stubing Rist coverUp on a Hill and Thereabouts: An Adirondack Childhood (SUNY Press, 2013) by Gloria Stubing Rist is a memoir of growing up in Chilson near Ticonderoga, during the Great Depression. In the 1930s, life for kids tucked away in the quiet woodlands of the Adirondacks was rich with nature and filled with human characters.

This memoir contains the recollections of one woman who spent her childhood on the hillsides and in the woods near Ticonderoga. Rist served as Newcomb Central School’s school nurse for five years. Her father-in-law was Ernest Rist, a Newcomb politician in the 1920s through the 1950s. Following his death, New York State honored him by naming a previously unnamed peak after him, Rist Mountain in the southeast corner of the Marcy quadrangle. Continue reading

New Political Biography: The Kennedy Half-Century


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The Kennedy Half-CenturyThe Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy (Bloomsbury, 2013) is an an original and illuminating narrative revealing John F. Kennedy’s lasting influence on America, by the acclaimed political analyst Larry J. Sabato.

John F. Kennedy died almost half a century ago — yet because of his extraordinary promise and untimely death, his star still resonates strongly. On the anniversary of his assassination, celebrated political scientist and analyst Larry J. Sabato — himself a teenager in the early 1960s and inspired by JFK and his presidency — explores the fascinating and powerful influence he has had over five decades on the media, the general public, and especially on each of his nine presidential successors. Continue reading

Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space


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Hell's KicthenHell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914 by Joseph J. Varga (Monthly Review Press, 2013) considers how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces through an examination of the famous Manhattan neighborhood during the “Progressive Era.”

Hell’s Kitchen is among Manhattan’s most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side’s middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces. Continue reading

Books: Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County


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image001(6)In 1870, the New York Herald proclaimed that Ulster County was New York’s “Ulcer County” due to its lawlessness and crime. The columnist supported his claim by citing that in only six months, “it has been the scene of no less than four cold blooded and brutal murders, six suicides and four elopements.”

Hannah Markle—the bane of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union—ran a Kingston saloon where murder and violence were served alongside the whiskey. John Babbitt confessed on his deathbed to murdering Emma Brooks, and Wille Brown—reputed member of the Eastman Gang—accidentally shot his best friend. The infamous Big Bad Bill, the “Gardiner Desperado,” lashed out more than once and killed in a drunken rage. Continue reading

New Book: Frederick Douglass’ Family Life in Rochester


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f&acoverMany books have been written about Frederick Douglass’ early life and later accomplishments as a famous abolitionist and orator, but Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester New York: Their Home Was Open To All (History Press, 2013), by local historian Rose O’Keefe, is the first book to bring Frederick and Anna’s family side to life. O’Keefe traces the Douglass family’s journey to the rural homestead in what is now the edge of Highland Park in the City of Rochester.

Frederick Douglass – author, orator and former slave – spent twenty-five years with his family in Rochester beginning in 1848. Despite living through some of our nation’s most bitter and terrifying times, Frederick and his wife, Anna, raised five children in a loving home with flower, fruit and vegetable gardens. Continue reading

William Almon Wheeler: North Country Political Star


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Wheeler cover designA new biography is shedding light on an overshadowed North Country political figure, the Nineteenth Vice President of the United States. In William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country (2013, SUNY Press), author Herbert C. Hallas leaves no doubt that Wheeler was a more significant political figure than the existing literature may lead one to believe.

The book is the first and only complete biography of Wheeler, a man referred to as “the New York Lincoln,” who helped to found the Republican Party and build it into a formidable political force during the Gilded Age. Wheeler’s life is an American success story about how a poor boy from Malone achieved fame and fortune as a lawyer, banker, railroad president, state legislator, five-time congressman, and vice president of the United States. Continue reading