Set against the backdrop of an expanding nation, Brilliant Beacons traces the evolution of America's lighthouse system from its earliest days, highlighting the political, military, and technological battles fought to illuminate the nation's hardscrabble coastlines. Beginning with "Boston Light," America’s first lighthouse, Dolin shows how the story of America, from colony to regional backwater, to fledging nation, and eventually to global industrial power, can be illustrated through its lighthouses.
Even in the colonial era, the question of how best to solve the collective problem of lighting our ports, reefs, and coasts through a patchwork of private interests and independent localities telegraphed the great American debate over federalism and the role of a centralized government. As the nation expanded, throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so too did the coastlines in need of illumination, from New England to the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Pacific Coast all the way to Alaska. In Dolin's hands we see how each of these beacons tell its own story of political squabbling, technological advancement, engineering marvel, and individual derring-do.
In rollicking detail, Dolin treats readers to a memorable cast of characters, from the penny-pinching Treasury official Stephen Pleasonton, who hamstrung the country's efforts to adopt the revolutionary Fresnel lens, to the indomitable Katherine Walker, who presided so heroically over New York Harbor as keeper at Robbins Reef Lighthouse that she was hailed as a genuine New York City folk hero upon her death in 1931. He also animates American military history from the Revolution to the Civil War and presents tales both humorous and harrowing of soldiers, saboteurs, Civil War battles, ruthless egg collectors, and, most important, the lighthouse keepers themselves, men and women who often performed astonishing acts of heroism in carrying out their duties.
In the modern world of GPS and satellite-monitored shipping lanes, Brilliant Beacons forms a poignant elegy for the bygone days of the lighthouse, a symbol of American ingenuity that served as both a warning and a sign of hope for generations of mariners; and it also shows how these sentinels have endured, retaining their vibrancy to the present day. Containing over 150 photographs and illustrations, Brilliant Beacons vividly reframes America's history.
A Boston Globe Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007
Amazon.com Editors pick as one of the 10 best history books of 2007
Winner of the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, given by the North American Society for Oceanic History
"The best history of American whaling to come along in a generation." —Nathaniel Philbrick The epic history of the "iron men in wooden boats" who built an industrial empire through the pursuit of whales. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," Herman Melville proclaimed, and this absorbing history demonstrates that few things can capture the sheer danger and desperation of men on the deep sea as dramatically as whaling. Eric Jay Dolin begins his vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. He then chronicles the rise of a burgeoning industry—from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in the mid-1800s when a fleet of more than 700 ships hunted the seas and American whale oil lit the world, to its decline as the twentieth century dawned. This sweeping social and economic history provides rich and often fantastic accounts of the men themselves, who mutinied, murdered, rioted, deserted, drank, scrimshawed, and recorded their experiences in journals and memoirs. Containing a wealth of naturalistic detail on whales, Leviathan is the most original and stirring history of American whaling in many decades.
Winner of the New England Historial Association's 2010 James P. Hanlan Award
Winner of the Outdoor Writers Association of America 2011 Excellence in Craft Award, Book Division, First Place
"A compelling and well-annotated tale of greed, slaughter and geopolitics." —Los Angeles Times As Henry Hudson sailed up the broad river that would one day bear his name, he grew concerned that his Dutch patrons would be disappointed in his failure to find the fabled route to the Orient. What became immediately apparent, however, from the Indians clad in deer skins and "good furs" was that Hudson had discovered something just as tantalizing.
The news of Hudson's 1609 voyage to America ignited a fierce competition to lay claim to this uncharted continent, teeming with untapped natural resources. The result was the creation of an American fur trade, which fostered economic rivalries and fueled wars among the European powers, and later between the United States and Great Britain, as North America became a battleground for colonization and imperial aspirations.
In Fur, Fortune, and Empire, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin chronicles the rise and fall of the fur trade of old, when the rallying cry was "get the furs while they last." Beavers, sea otters, and buffalos were slaughtered, used for their precious pelts that were tailored into extravagant hats, coats, and sleigh blankets. To read Fur, Fortune, and Empire then is to understand how North America was explored, exploited, and settled, while its native Indians were alternately enriched and exploited by the trade. As Dolin demonstrates, fur, both an economic elixir and an agent of destruction, became inextricably linked to many key events in American history, including the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, as well as to the relentless pull of Manifest Destiny and the opening of the West.
This work provides an international cast beyond the scope of any Hollywood epic, including Thomas Morton, the rabble-rouser who infuriated the Pilgrims by trading guns with the Indians; British explorer Captain James Cook, whose discovery in the Pacific Northwest helped launch America's China trade; Thomas Jefferson who dreamed of expanding the fur trade beyond the Mississippi; America's first multimillionaire John Jacob Astor, who built a fortune on a foundation of fur; and intrepid mountain men such as Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith, who sliced their way through an awe inspiring and unforgiving landscape, leaving behind a mythic legacy still resonates today.
Concluding with the virtual extinction of the buffalo in the late 1800s, Fur, Fortune, and Empire is an epic history that brings to vivid life three hundred years of the American experience, conclusively demonstrating that the fur trade played a seminal role in creating the nation we are today.
As the Boston area grew and prospered, its sewage problems worsened, as did the harbor's health, to the point where in the 1980s it was considered the most polluted harbor in the country and ridiculed as the "harbor of shame." Then, in one of the most impressive environmental comebacks in American history, Boston Harbor was dramatically cleaned up. All it took was two lawsuits, two courts, dozens of lawyers, the creation of a powerful sewage authority, thousands of workers, millions of labor hours, and billions of dollars.
Sewage management is rarely as compelling and exciting as higher profile environmental issues such as global climate change, preserving endangered species, or protecting tropical rainforests. But it can be, as Eric Jay Dolin shows in this engaging narrative account. Boston's struggle to deal with its sewage is an epic story of failure and success, replete with colorful characters, political, bureaucratic, and legal twists and turns, engineering feats, and massive amounts of money. In the end, success hinged on the often overlooked yet monumentally important act of responsibly disposing of the waste people produce every day.