Saturday, February 7, 2015

Inventing Niagara – Audiobook Review

Title: InventingNiagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies
Author: Ginger Strand
Narrator: Karen White
Unabridged Length: 13 h, 10 m
Published by Tantor Audio, 2008
Genres: Nonfiction, History

From the Publisher
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 houses, IMAX films, and ersatz Indian tales.

A symbol of American manifest destiny, they are shared politely with Canada. Emblematic of nature's power, they are completely human-controlled. An archetype of natural beauty, the falls belie an ugly environmental legacy still bubbling up from below. On every level, Niagara Falls is a monument to how America falsifies nature, reshaping its contours and redirecting its force while claiming to submit to its will.

Combining history, reportage, and personal narrative, Inventing Niagara traces Niagara's journey from sublime icon to engineering marvel to camp spectacle. Along the way, Ginger Strand uncovers the hidden history of America's waterfall: the Mohawk chief who wrested the falls from his adopted tribe, the revered town father who secretly assisted slave catchers, the wartime workers who unknowingly helped build the atomic bomb, and the building contractor who bought and sold a pharaoh.

With an uncanny ability to zero in on the buried truth, Strand introduces us to underwater dams, freaks of nature, mythical maidens, and 280,000 radioactive mice buried at Niagara.

From LaSalle to Lincoln to Los Alamos, Mohawks to Marilyn, Niagara's story is America's story, a tale of dreams founded on the mastery of nature. At a time of increasing environmental crisis, Inventing Niagara shows us how understanding the cultural history of nature might help us to rethink our place in it today.

My Review:

Inventing Niagara was a timely listen for me last month as I’d just seen the big hoopla in the media about Niagara Falls being partially frozen over. Of course it was, since the river flow had been majorly diverted to generate power on both sides of the river. Who knew the utilities had the capacity to totally shut down the river flow, to turn off the falls? Of course, winter is usually the off-season for tourism at the falls. The “frozen” falls created an off-season tourist attraction with national media coverage.

Until recent years, I’d always thought Niagara Falls was a natural wonder. At one time, it was. It has a storied history and pretty much none of it has anything to do with preserving nature. It is all about greed and the exploitation of natural resources. The history of the falls is very interesting and not generally known. Over the years, myth has often trumped reality.

Karen White does an excellent job keeping this book moving along with a read that seems to fully capture the author’s intention. She has an expressive voice that gives the experience of the author telling her story directly to me, as opposed to a dry straight read.

This audiobook clocks in at a little over 13 hours, but I didn’t find it the least bit slow. The material was interesting, well written as an investigative history, and well voiced with good pacing.

I really liked the Red Hat Society’s invasion of Niagara Falls for a convention. It was amusing, but you’ll have to listen for yourself to get the story.

I bought this audiobook during a Tantor sale over the holidays. I like nonfiction, particularly when it is investigative in nature. I also wanted to hear White narrate, as a lot of what she does is outside my areas of interest.

I love nature and have spent much time hiking in national parks in the U.S. and Canada. I have never been to Niagara Falls as it always seemed too touristy. I knew some of the story, such as the water diversions for hydroelectric power generation. I had no idea the extent of the diversion or how unnatural the falls truly are today. This book is definitely in the myth-busters category. It’s not always pretty when you take a look behind the curtain. Give Ginger Strand’s Inventing Niagara a listen, if you would like to learn a whole lot that you likely never knew about Niagara Falls. Karen White does a great job bringing this history to life.

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