Inventing Niagara

Inventing Niagara

Beauty, Power, and Lies

Book - 2008
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Americans call Niagara Falls a natural wonder, but the Falls aren't very natural anymore. In fact, they are a study in artifice. Water diverted, riverbed reshaped, brink stabilized and landscape redesigned, the Falls are more a monument to man's meddling than to nature's strength. Held up as an example of something real, they are hemmed in with fakery -- waxworks, haunted houses, IMAX films and ersatz Indian tales. A symbol of American manifest destiny, they are shared politely with Canada. Emblem of nature's power, they are completely human-controlled. Archetype of natural beauty, they belie an ugly environmental legacy still bubbling up from below. On every level, Niagara Falls is a monument to how America falsifies nature, reshaping its contours and redirecting its force while claiming to submit to its will. Combining history, reportage and personal narrative,Inventing Niagaratraces Niagara's journey from sublime icon to engineering marvel to camp spectacle. Along the way, Ginger Strand uncovers the hidden history of America's waterfall: the Mohawk chief who wrested the Falls from his adopted tribe, the revered town father who secretly assisted slave catchers, the wartime workers who unknowingly helped build the Bomb and the building contractor who bought and sold a pharaoh. With an uncanny ability to zero in on the buried truth, Strand introduces us to underwater dams, freaks of nature, mythical maidens and 280,000 radioactive mice buried at Niagara. From LaSalle to Lincoln to Los Alamos, Mohawks to Marilyn, Niagara's story is America's story, a tale of dreams founded on the mastery of nature. At a time of increasing environmental crisis,Inventing Niagarashows us how understanding the cultural history of nature might help us rethink our place in it today.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2008.
ISBN: 9781416546566
Characteristics: 337 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 23 cm


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Apr 28, 2016

Having lived in Niagara Falls, I'm always intrigued by the region's unique history on both sides of the river. And while this book focuses largely on the New York side, the information she adds to the conversation is invaluable. What I found fascinating was why the Canadian side is relatively prosperous while the American side looks like a slum. According to Strand, it largely had to do with the construction of the Robert Moses State Parkway, which cut off Falls tourists from the downtown core like a Berlin Wall. In addition, an ill-conceived "urban renewal" project in the mid-60s made a once vibrant business district into an outdoor hotel lobby. These two decisions have blighted the city ever since. Additionally, the chapters dealing with the Porters, Love Canal (I had no idea how much Niagara contributed to the Manhattan Project) and the Maid of the Mist make this a great read. My only criticism is that the author used a lot of present-ism in the book, which I think is largely unfair.

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