Tracey's Reviews > Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies

Inventing Niagara by Ginger Strand
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May 28, 2008

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bookshelves: pop-history, americana
Read from January 01 to 02, 2013 — I own a copy

I'd first heard about this book on the NPR Fresh Air program 26 May 2008; however, it was as a pass-along from my Mom that I finally had a chance to sit down and read it.

I visited the Niagara Falls area back in 1999 and remember clearly the disparity between the US and Canadian sides - now, thanks to this book I want to go back to explore the nooks and crannies a bit more thoroughly.

Inventing Niagara reads a bit like a Sarah Vowell book - Strand explores the history and sociology of the Niagara Falls area, from Native American times to modern day. She covers its history of exploitation quite well - I was particularly fascinated by the struggle between the hydroelectric contingent and the nature lovers during the late 1800's and their compromise. I wish there had been more info about Tesla's involvement - tho I was surprised to learn that Frederick Law Olmstead played such a huge part in the development of Niagara Falls as a tourist location (and how much landscaping went into making it look so "natural"!)

And much like Vowell, Strand digs into the less savory elements of the area's history - such as Love Canal, and the post Manhattan-Project radioactive dumping. She even veers off into a history of the Red Hat Club (they held a national convention at the Falls while Strand was there) as well as follows the remains of one of the original Niagara Falls tourist attractions - a museum of natural history - to its current owner in New York City. Strand puts a lot of herself into this book - discussing how she performed the research, as well as some of her own conclusions about the area's current situation.

If you enjoy nonstandard place histories, where the author plays an active part in the narration (again, see Sarah Vowell), I can recommend this book.
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