"Wedding of the Waters: the Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation" by Peter L. Bernstein

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A superb, comprehensive, well-detailed history of the planning and building of the Erie Canal. Begun at a time (1817) when there was not one professional civil engineer in the U.S., the canal's proponents overcame Washington's indifference, immense physical challenges, and roiling New York State politics to build their water highway. By cutting nine tenths of the time and expense of moving goods from the Midwest to Atlantic seaports, the Canal made the economic development of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys possible. It also catapulted New York State into an eminent position in the Union, having abjured federal help; pushed New York City into world-class status; made Chicago the second-most important city in the U.S.; served as a model for federal funding of the Civil War; and vaulted America into the limelight as a world power. Not bad for a serviceable little ditch.
Bernstein weaves a fascinating tale of the indomitable political will it took to even sell the idea to the bond-buying public. The story includes the stunning ingenuity of the men responsible for the work, and it's all placed perfectly in the context of the canal-crazy era. This is wonderful - not to be missed.
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