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Bond of Union

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Bond of Union
Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire
By Gerard Koeppel. (Da Capo Press Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2010. Pg. 454. Illustrations, Maps.) ISBN: 978-0-306-81826-2.

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - March 2, 2010

Perhaps almost every American school child learned the song, Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal. But why was the canal built, what role did it play in American history and the expansion of the American empire? What lessons can be drawn from the building of the Erie canal, and what do they mean for today? These, and many more critical questions are addressed in Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire. This engaging and key opening history was written by Gerard Koeppel, a journalist, historian, and the author of Water for Gotham.

This popular history of the Erie Canal is wonderfully written in a flowing narrative style, and Koeppel's research on the topic was obviously extensive as was his passion for the subject. As well, the information presented in this book appears to be very accurate and unbiased. Over the course of this narrative, Bond of Union explores not only the factors that lead to the building of the Erie Canal, but also how it was physically carried out. Also covered are the numerous innovations that were developed during its construction, such as the discovery of waterproof cement. Koeppel describes the eccentric cast of characters that played key roles in the construction of the canal, from Jesse Haley who first suggested the idea of the canal in a newspaper essay to Benjamin Wright, one of the key engineers that made the canal a reality. Along the way, Koeppel describes the acrimony that developed between the various towns and politicians who had their own ideas as to where and how the canal should be laid out.

In addition to learning a great deal about the Erie Canal, I also came away from this book with a unique understanding of the impact that a major infrastructure project can have on a country, an understanding that is particularly relevant at this time when the country is in the grip of a recession and a push is on to jump-start job creation, and the economy. As such, this book should be read by all politicians, economists, and business people looking for ways to spur economic growth.

While the Erie Canal is nothing more now than on old, forgotten waterway, its construction and the role it played in American history is as relevant today as it was when it was built. Koeppel has done his readers a great service by reminding them that there is much to learn from the past. As well he has crafted a fine story which will enthrall anyone interested in reading about a pivotal moment in American history with all the angst of a modern soap opera.

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