Friday, November 18, 2016

Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal

Heaven's Ditch is a history of some of the key events in upstate New York in the early 1800s. The book interleaves a number of different events: the construction of the Erie canal, the story of Joseph Smith and the rise of Mormonism, William Miller and the adventist movement, Sam Patch and daredevil entertainers, William Morgan and the rise of the anti-Masonic movement, Charles Finney and abolitionists. It does not attempt to provide a general history of the area, but instead a history of these events that were in part enabled by the construction of the Erie canal. The book almost succeeds. It provides a nice overview of the spirit of the times. However, it loses focus, and provides both too little and too much detail. (It spends significant time wrapping up Joseph Smith's story in Missouri and Illinois, yet barely glosses over the enlargement and legacy of the Erie Canal.) The author tries to be objective in covering the events in the story. However, he does inject some of his views and color of the events. As a history, the book is week. However, it does tell an entertaining story that helps link together a number of key events that were happening in close proximity.

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