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Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  185 ratings  ·  49 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 337 pages
Published May 6th 2008 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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May 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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 Niagar
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
The central premise of this book is that the natural wonder we know as Niagara Falls is in fact an example of how nature is manipulated for man’s own purposes but still sold as “nature.” The author’s love of the subject is obvious--this is as much about her own voyage of discovery as it is about Niagara Falls. We follow her as she meets interesting people associated with the Falls. She describes her many visits to the region, the many people she meets, what she uncovers at the library, the local ...more
Sean Owen
Nov 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
Niagra Falls is an interesting subject worthy of exploration unfortunately that's not the real subject of this book. Ginger Strand is a boring narcissist who cannot stop talking about herself. If I wanted to read an idiot complain about not being allowed to look at her cellphone while in a research library I'd sign up for twitter.

Avoid this if you want to read about something interesting. Pick this book up if you'd like to hear a boring middle aged women prattle on about herself.
Jen O'Donnell
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"He cooked an omelette on the tightrope?"

"Mhmm, yeah. That's what I remember most about him."

(A conversation between my fiance and I when I had him read the pages about Blondin's tightrope walks across Niagara Falls) Yes, first because love cooking omelettes. But also because I love spectacle, and Niagara Falls. I was born there and it's easy for people to forget about the Falls – not just as a place but also its place within history. Here's part of those pages I had him read –

...'He crossed w
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Being a Niagara native and a local history buff, I found this book to be the absolutely very best thing I've ever read on the subject. Her style was beautiful and it kept me through each and every page. She covered the good and the bad with an eye that saw a bit deeper into things. She showed me a whole new way of looking at the place I call home. I love how she made a parallel with whatever was going on in NF and the history of this country. We have always been kind of a live exhibit of the sym ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, science, history
"Environmentalism is a way of seeing. It's time to look the world squarely in the face and try to understand our role in it. There's no painting ourselves out of the picture. This is not to say we must always make something of nature, never leaving it alone. It's to say that we are it, and it is us, and until we stop trying to separate the two, we'll never get beyond seeing the natural world as either virgin or whore, something to be put on a pedestal and admired, or else used up with little reg ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best example of using history + pop culture to learn. An easy and fascinating read. The perfect travel book for anyone who is going to Niagara Falls, or has been there. It's the story of America, from the British and the French, Indians, the first state park, democracy, the Erie Canal, Harriet Tubman crossing to freedom in Canada and the Underground Railroad, daredevils in the news, the power of advertising, hydroelectric plants transforming society, industrialist greed and corruption, toxic ...more
Dec 03, 2008 is currently reading it
this one is taking me some time- it reads like a textbook. i read for hours last night and i only made it to page 45! what is that?! i'm trying to absorb everything and learn something, so i keep rereading sections. when i was put in the position of tour guide last month to some people who had never been here, i quickly realized how much i don't know about the area. this book will hopefully help me with that. ...more
Christopher Allen
May 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Great book about the history of the Niagara Falls area starting in the 1600s and working through the present (2006) when the book was published. Chapter one deals with the early history and the role Native Americans (Indians) have played. There are many mentions of all of the important people in Niagara's history (whether they were good or bad) and how their influence marked the area. It was especially interesting to read about how important the area was to the development of the atom bombs that ...more
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed her style of writing. I didn't think I'd ever laugh so much reading about Niagara. I'm going to try one of her other books hoping that I'll like it as much. ...more
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The author is like that friend of yours, the one who geeks out over some subject you've never considered the least bit interesting (hydroelectric power, for instance!), and whose passion for it is so infectious that you find yourself suddenly wondering why *you* never geeked out about hydroelectricity before. Reading this book was like having what starts out as a straightforward conversation with your friend, and as her favorite subject comes up, finding her bursting with weird and fascinating d ...more
Joann Dunnavant
Sep 24, 2016 rated it liked it
There was a lot of history in this book, but I felt that sometimes it was slanted to fit the premise. I had no idea that water levels could be controlled, but some the measures just make sense.
Elizabeth K.
Jul 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Karen, Nancy if you happen to come across it. I don't know that you need to seek it out.
Shelves: 2009-new-reads
This was an enjoyable "of local interest" book, looking at Niagara Falls through American history, from the transition of control of area from the Tuscarora tribe to the new settlers in the region, the creation of the whole concept of the honeymoon in America, hydro-electric power, Love Canal and other chemical and nuclear waste, and most recently, the introduction of casinos on both the Canadian and American sides.

It's a very chatty book, and I enjoyed the tone -- this is someone who clearly l
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's more a book about the author's experience of Niagara Falls than just a dry look at the history of an area and community with more wrinkles than we'd expect. However, that makes it a much more interesting read, even considering Strand's tendency to go overboard on illustrative metaphors on every subject imaginable. Sure, the falls at Niagara would move anyone to wax eloquent describing their beauty, power, and charm, but, consider this description:

"broad-shouldered and narrow-hipped, metal l
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it
The story of Niagra Falls is also the story of America. This titan of staggering power and beauty, symbolic of the monsterous uncharted wilderness of the new world, was wrestled out from under its original inhabitants, groomed into a commercial attraction, hydroelectrically harnessed to the power grid, cast as host to post-nuclear progress and its attendant pollutants,and then abandoned in the wake of economic collapse. Ginger Strand tells this sprawling story in a series of journalistic meditat ...more
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wow, there are a lot of interesting things to think about when it comes to Niagara Falls: there's the history of European exploration and conflict with First Nations in the area, the early and continuing history of tourism, the extent to which the Falls as we know them today are a manmade (or remade) creation, the development of hydro power, the terrible pollution and industrial decay wrought by ready access to hydro power, including waste from the area's role in nuclear weapons production. Take ...more
Jun 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A really fascinating, engrossing book, not dry at all, with sections about the development of industry in Niagara Falls, urban development, encounters between Native Americans and explorers in the area, the Power Vista, nuclear weapons production, Love Canal, the Honeymoon Industry, and the extensive engineering projects that have completely remade the Falls. It was especially interesting for me because I grew up in Niagara County and it addresses the little stories people here always tell about ...more
May 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Western New Yorkers, history buffs, American history students
Recommended to Amanda by: Book Page
I just started this and the introduction is making it hard for me to WANT to read it. So far all I'm getting is arrogance on the part of the author.

OK, it improves once you're past the introduction. If you aren't a big-city cynic, skip the intro and you'll be fine. The first chapter on the Indian myths and relation to the Falls is a great refresher on American History (and a lot more interesting/engaging that what I learned in school). The second, about the commercial aspect is turning out enlig
Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: niagara-falls
Remember that old story about how a frog can be boiled alive if the water is heated slowly enough — it is said that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will never jump out? I guess that’s why it took the author Ginger Strand who grew up in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan to truly understand the Niagara story. Those of us who grew up there are just to numb to its grand beauty and sweeping disappointm ...more
Sheryl Tribble
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It's very rambling and covers everything from tourism to the philosophy organizing museum exhibits to nuclear waste disposal during WW II, but at the same time it all relates pretty tightly to Niagara Falls. I thought it well written and entertaining. The author is fascinated by her subject, and invites the reader to share in her fascination; the way she presented it made that easy for me to do. She's also pretty balanced about ecological issues; admitting that enviro ...more
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Covers the whole history of the Niagara Falls area. Very enlightening. Most people would consider Niagara Falls to be one of the natural wonders of the world, actually it is as far from "natural" as it is possible to get at this point in time. Every drop of water going over the falls could be (and has been) diverted into tunnels to creat hydro-electric power. The falls are "turned down" at night to creat more electricity and "turned up" in the morning so there is a good looking flow for the tour ...more
May 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Niagara Falls, New York is my birthplace and where I spent the first thirty years of life. Immediate reaction: 1. Pretty decent for a non-native. 2. Obvious non-native because she goes deep enough to give a direct mention to Viola's, but an oblique mention to my own family's now-defunct business. Which was a heck of a lot more...iconic...than Viola's.

But that's clearly personal. The Wall Street Journal reviewed this book favorably and I agree. She gets Niagara Falls right, in all of its PCB-mist
Aug 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people from upstate NY
In general, I thought this book was interesting and well-researched, particularly the chapters on the industry and pollution at the falls, the Niagara region's role in the Underground Railroad, and the parts on water diversion. I'm not sure why the chapter about the Red Hat Club ended up in this book, though. The reason why this gets three stars and not four is because the author's narrative voice was rather grating. Her descriptions of history and politics are fascinating, but she injected hers ...more
Both fun and obsessive, this look at America’s most iconic natural wonder weaves together a broad range of disparate but interconnected themes, including: the early history of the Niagara frontier, tightrope walking and slavery, hydropower and industrialization vs. preserving “nature,” honeymoons, Love Canal and toxic waste, the depressed American city vs. Canadian glitz, Native Americans (from the early days to the Seneca Niagara Casino). Author Strand shares her own personal journey towards un ...more
Jessie B.
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is both a fascinating history of Niagara Falls and of the meaning of the Falls within the American and Canadian psyche. It also follows the adventures of the writer as she tracks down the more obscure and strange parts of Niagara Falls History. I would recomend it to anyone who was wondered at the appeal of the Falls or found themselves oddly fascinated by the craziness that surrounds them.
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Great book - and is a surprising history of all of western NY. I read this a while back - but the author does an excellent job of placing Niagara Falls in spatial context in both the pre-european landscape (Ganondagan)and Canandaigua (The Chosen Spot). I have not looked at the "Falls" in the same way again. This book made me think more critically about my own interaction with the Western NY landscape. Recommend! ...more
Rick Plouffe
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very insightful.

Don't read this expecting a typical documentary on the tourist spot. There's some very candid opinions in on historical figures of the region and a large amount of material on factory pollution, nuclear waste, and economic depression.

In other words, don't read this before going to Niagara the first time or it will depress the heck out of you. Go first for the fun and awe, then read later and go back to see all the important landmarks discussed in the book.

Nicole Geub
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
really easy to get into. I've been to Niagara once when I was young. but after this book I totally want to go again and look for all the historical hints dropped in this book.
find out more about the radiation dumping. about the landfills. who would have thought I'd get excited about garbage?
I want to see the falls one full blast power and with the power turned off during the off season too.
fascinating book. thanks ginger strand!
May 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those that grew up in WNY
Recommended to Mary by: Jeff
Shelves: favorites
My husband wondered why me, a person so proud of her WNY upbringing, was so shocked at parts of this book. I just couldn't understand why they didn't tell us some of this stuff in school. Or did they? Or did they not know about it? I'm glad I know now, even though it's depressing. Still makes me miss home. ...more
Nicholas Husbye
Jun 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A really fascinating look at how Niagara is both held up as the pinnacle of nature's majesty yet, at the same time, wrestled into control by man. Strand writes about Niagara with passion and lays before the reader a deep, nuanced history of how the falls has changed and continues to change to this day. ...more
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Ginger Strand is an American essayist, novelist, environmental writer, and historian. Her 2005 debut novel Flight was adapted from several of her short stories. Her published books of non-fiction include Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies in May 2008 and Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate in 2012.

Ginger Strand grew up mostly on a farm in Michigan. Her family moved oft

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