Land of Rivers
America’s rivers and its history are forever intertwined and in LAND OF RIVERS AMERICA IN WORD AND IMAGE a theme soon emerges of gain and loss, of the conflict between economic development and natural beauty which has characterized the colonization of the United States. Editor Peter Mancall draws on a wealth of sources, from Native American creation tales to an excerpt from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, from seventeenth century English Quaker William Penn’s proposals for the Susquehanna River Valley to former Tennessee Valley Authority Director David E. Lilienthal’s testimony to river development in the Tennessee Valley. Mark Twain’s Mississippi River and Norman Maclean’s Big Blackfoot River are here and so too is Edgar Allan Poe, lazing away a morning on the Wissahiccon River. Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II salutes the Mississippi and singer/songwriter Randy Newman commemorates the burning Cuyahoga. Excerpts are quoted generously with only the briefest of introductory notes. A few dull entries survived the cut by virtue of their subject matter alone. Unfortunately, the same can be said for many of the illustrations.
Still, the casual browser will likely find both old friends and interesting new material. However, with fewer than sixty selections, this is an anthology which may be a more rewarding read from beginning to end. Organized by century, Mancall’s argument develops inexorably from early glimpses of Eden through exploitation for agricultural and industrial purposes. The catastrophic losses of the twentieth century are here and so, too, is the emergence of a new environmental consciousness. Little is made of river commerce, ports, or city rivers. Yet there is discussion of logging and fishing, boating and baptism, pollution and irrigation, damming and flooding. The river is a thoroughfare and source of power. Along the way Mancall brings readers to a new appreciation of the incredibly diverse roles rivers play in daily lives.