THE HISTORY OF THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY by Vernon Benjamin

THE HISTORY OF THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY

From Wilderness to the Civil War

KIRKUS REVIEW

A lecturer in local history (Marist and Bard colleges) and former journalist debuts with a thick, detailed story of a region as rich in legend and legendary characters as it is in history.

Benjamin’s text reads at times more like a reference book than a narrative history, but it collects some priceless information, useful context and overview, as well as confident though not always agreeable opinion. He declares, for instance, that only Poe surpassed Washington Irving as a writer of short stories in the 19th century (somewhere, Hawthorne and Melville are weeping). Cavils aside, Benjamin’s truly is a sturdy volume in size and importance. He gives us a few pages of paleogeography, describes the current dimensions of the river and its valley, launches into some detail about the critters that used to roam there (mammoths and mastodons among them), and tells about the arrival of the first American Indians and, of course, Henry Hudson (1609). Then, Benjamin marches through the development of the valley: the Indian wars, the struggle between the Dutch and the English for the region, the arrival of slaves. Soon enough, it’s the American Revolution, and the author writes at length about specific battles and leaders, including Benedict Arnold. George Washington is, of course, a mighty presence, and Benjamin dutifully records his visits to the region. Then it’s onward to the Federalists and anti-Federalists and sections on religion, agriculture, transportation and entrepreneurial ventures. The author devotes a chapter to Irving, another to James Fenimore Cooper and another to Poe. We learn about the artists who loved the valley’s natural wonders, and Benjamin describes the rise of tourism, the effect of Manifest Destiny and the moves toward the Civil War. Lincoln’s death ends the book.

An essential reference—though not always a gripping narrative.

Pub Date: June 12th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59020-079-7
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2014




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