Book Review: Lake Erie Rehabilitated

Lake Erie Rehabilitated: Controlling Cultural Eutrophication, 1960s—1990s. By William McGucken. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2000. xvi, 318 pp. Cloth, $49.95, ISBN 1-884836-57-7. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 1-884836-58-5.)

In this meticulous, yet often dry and ponderous work, historian William McGucken traces the efforts by the United States and Canada to control cultural eutrophication in Lake Erie. Cultural eutrophication is when “a lake’s nutrients are being excessively increased by some human activity – as, for example, the disposing of sewage in the lake” (2). The sign of this process in Lake Erie was algae growth that covered much of the surface, washed ashore, and whose decomposition led to depleted oxygen levels and the loss of desirable fish such as walleye and blue pike. Lake Erie was not the only lake undergoing this process in the years after WWII, but it was the most publicized one in North America. While McGucken considers the various “ecological, engineering, health, industrial, international, political, and scientific issues” (6) involved in this story, his concentration on the scientific is both the strength and the weakness of the book.

McGucken, who died in 2000, was chair of the history department at the University of Southern Indiana. He published three other books: Nineteenth-century Spectroscopy: Development of the Understanding of Spectra, 1802-1897 (1969), Scientists, Society, and State: The Social Relations of Science Movement in Great Britain, 1931-1947 (1984), and Biodegradable: Detergents and the Environment (1991). Lake Erie Rehabilitated is part of University of Akron Press’s series on technology and the environment (indeed, McGucken was one of the founding co-editors). Given the author’s background in the history of science, it fits that this work stresses the scientific over the political and social.

Although the focus of the book is Lake Erie, McGucken begins by examining the emergence of cultural eutrophication as an international problem to be corrected. Continue reading Book Review: Lake Erie Rehabilitated