Book Review: European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream

European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream: The Story of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. By William Reynolds, Edited by Peter K. Gifford and Robert D. Ilisevich. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. 288 pp. Hardcover, $44.95, ISBN 1-88483-691-7.)

First, a fair warning to readers, European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream: The Story of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, is not, as the title would imply, a secondary history of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. Instead, this is the story of one of the railroad’s earliest leaders, William Reynolds, and how he viewed the organization and construction of the railroad from 1851 until his resignation from the road in 1864. Reynolds’ recollections, written some forty years after his departure from the railroad, provide an interesting glimpse into the problems with ’empire’ building in 19th century America. Continue reading Book Review: European Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream

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

Book Review: In the Wake of the Butcher

James Jessen Badal, In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2001. xii, 255 p., Paper, $18.00, ISBN 0-87338-689-2.)

With respect to serial murder, “Jack the Ripper” of late 19th century London renown has nothing on the “torso murderer” of Depression-era Cleveland. The two serial killers have much in common, including the unfortunate fact that the identification of both murderers remains subject to speculation.

While several scorebooks have been published on the famous Victorian murderer of London prostitutes, James Jessen Badal is the first to give the torso murderer of Kingsbury Run the scrutiny these notorious crimes merit. Drawing on previously unexploited collections, including detailed police files, Badal tells us probably all we can ever hope to learn about these gruesome crimes. Continue reading Book Review: In the Wake of the Butcher

Book Review: Showtime in Cleveland

Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center. By John Vacha. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2001. 264 pp. Paper. $29.95, ISBN 0-87338-697-3.)

John Vacha has written about fine and performing arts for a variety of scholarly and popular history publications and was an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History/Dictionary of Cleveland Biography.

Vacha’s Showtime in Cleveland traces the evolution of “legitimate” theater (live spoken drama) as part of the city’s cultural history. The work is a chronological narrative with chapters representing distinct eras in the development of Cleveland theater history. It is not a scholarly history, but a rich narrative account interspersed with photographs and illustrations. Continue reading Book Review: Showtime in Cleveland

Book Review: When Oberlin Was King of the Gridiron

When Oberlin Was King of the Gridiron: The Heisman Years. By Nat Brandt. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2001. xii, 230 pp. Paper, $18.00, ISBN 0-87338-684-1.)

It was an all-too-familiar story of the 90’s: Ohio’s college football powerhouse regularly trounced a series greater or lesser teams from throughout the region, but each year the team and a certain controversial coach named John were never quite able to win the big game against Michigan. Whereas most of the scarlet and gray faithful at this point will roll their eyes and say they have heard it all before, chances are actually likely that they have not. The ’90s were the 1890s, the John was John Heisman, and the Ohio football powerhouse was Oberlin College. In a well-researched book steeped in the flavor of college life in the 1890s, Nat Brandt tells the unlikely story of how Oberlin College went from a school where football was forbidden to one of the strongest teams in the nation. Continue reading Book Review: When Oberlin Was King of the Gridiron

Book Review: The Cleveland Grays

The Cleveland Grays: An Urban Military Company, 1837-1919. By George N. Vourlojianis. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2002. x, 150 pp. Paper, $12.00, ISBN 0-87338-678-7.)

Within the military history genre, regimental and other small-unit studies retain a popularity perhaps second only to campaign volumes and “battle books.” Interestingly, early regimental histories appeared en masse on the American scene while the Civil War still raged, providing veterans and home readers accounts of epic deeds performed on blood-stained fields from Manassas to Missionary Ridge and beyond. Over the next one hundred years, the basic format remained nearly unchanged: “Regimentals” (as they are widely known) recounted in painstaking detail the stories of camp and battle, with scant mention of the social, political, and cultural forces that called these men, often hailing from a single community, to duty in defense of their homes. In fine, such studies provided precious little context of the world from which the soldiers came, serving instead as quintessential “pot-boilers,” accounts that stirred arguments among rival units and latter-day adherents rather than encourage meaningful understanding for subsequent generations of scholars, students, and enthusiasts.

The past thirty years, however, have witnessed the advent of truly integrated small-unit works, volumes that are as much community studies and social histories as they are military tomes. George N. Vourlojianis, assistant professor of history at Cleveland’s John Carroll University, attempts to contribute to the “new military history” in producing The Cleveland Grays, a reworking of his own 1994 Ph.D. dissertation. This reviewer took encouragement from the book’s first sentence, one that modestly decreed it a “work on a bit of Cleveland history” (ix) rather than a mere institutional or chronological narrative. Continue reading Book Review: The Cleveland Grays