America's Building Projects:
The 2011--2012 "America's History" Book Discussion Series


The landmass that became the United States contained people, culture & structures when the first European colonists arrived, but it lacked the infrastructure the colonists were accustomed to having. Through tremendous amounts of danger, creativity & cost, the new Americans were able to create the country they wanted.

The Sachem Library is sponsoring a 10-month book discussion group entitled America's Building Projects. Join friends and neighbors to discuss ten projects that help to define the nation we know today. The group, with two exceptions, will meet on the 4th Monday of each month in the library Board Room from 3--4:30 p.m. beginning 25 September, 2011.

Those interested in participating may sign up at the Reference Desk for the first book discussion beginning Friday, 26 August.


MONDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER, 2011 3:00--4:30

Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary who Designed Washington, D.C., by Scott W. Berg.
A French volunteer during the American Revolution, Maj. Pierre Charles L'Enfant was asked by George Washington in 1791 to design a gleaming federal city, not on a hill but in a swamp. Fueled by ambition, the Frenchman took up the survey in 1791, and in less than three months had drawn up a plan that went far beyond what Washington had expected. But for all his talent, L'Enfant managed to offend almost everyone connected to the project (including President Washington) and his inability to get along with others involved, plus the animus of Thomas Jefferson--who held a completely different viewpoint on the way that Washington, D.C. should be laid out--led to his dismissal the year after he began his work. His post was taken over by his chief surveyor who changed some of the details, and published his plan without L'Enfant's name on it, an omission would take over a century to correct.

MONDAY, 24 OCTOBER, 2011 3:00--4:30

Bond of Union: Building of the Erie Canal and the American Empire, by Gerard T. Koeppel. Da Capo, 2009.
Proposed in 1808 and completed in 1825, the canal links the waters of Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east. An engineering marvel when it was built, some called it the Eighth Wonder of the World. Koeppel tells the astonishing story of the creation of the Erie Canal and the memorable characters who turned a visionary plan into a successful venture.

MONDAY, 28 NOVEMBER, 2011 3:00--4:30

A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmstead and America in the 19th Century, by Witold Rybczynski. Scribner, 1999.
Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is best remembered today for his plans for New York's Central Park and Prospect Park, the Fens in Boston, the park surrounding Niagara Falls, the gardens surrounding North Carolinas Biltmore Estate, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. He believed passionately in the restorative power of landscape for ordinary people and he was concerned to make America's urban spaces livable. His design of Central Park especially embodies Olmsted's social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Rybczynski meshes what is close to a history of urban landscape architecture in America in the nineteenth century with a life of Olmsted.

MONDAY, 27 DECEMBER, 2011 3:00--4:30

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870--1914, by David McCullough. S&S, 1977.
On February 1, 1881, driven by patriotic fervor and capitalized by over 100,000 mostly small investors, the French Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interocéanique began work on a canal that would cross the Colombian isthmus of Panama and unite the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ferdinand de Lesseps,builder of the Suez Canal, led the project. Tropical disease and engineering problems halted construction on the canal and after the project failed, Panama quickly became synonymous with scandal and fraud. Into the breach leapt Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted a way for the navy to sail quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and was determined to build the canal by any means necessary.

MONDAY, 23 JANUARY, 2012 3:00--4:30

Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore, by John Taliaferro. PubAff., 2002.
During the early 1920's South Dakota historian Doane Robinson wanted a monument of significance in the central part of the country for Americans to visit. The job of creating such a monument went to Gutzon Borglum (1867--1941), a man who thought BIG, and had an ego to match his ambitions. He wanted Mount Rushmore to be his crowning achievement, something to be ranked among the wonders of the world. But much more than a biography of a man whose talents exceeded his qualities as a human being (he supported and KKK and discarded one wife for another), Taliaferro uses the construction of Mount Rushmore explore an American dream built on slave labor and on land stolen from the Indians, and where a love of the country's natural beauty often takes a backseat to the quest for profit.

MONDAY, 27 FEBRUARY, 2012 3:00--4:30

Golden Gate: The Life & Times of America's Greatest Bridge, by Kevin Starr. Bloomsbury, 2010.
At the time of its completion in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting the city of San Francisco to adjacent Marin County, was the longest suspension bridge in the world, not to mention a symbol of America's engineering prowess. As admired as it is today, at its inception, the bridge faced opposition on many fronts: the Dept of War was concerned that the bridge would interfere with ship traffic; the navy feared that a ship collision or sabotage to the bridge could block the entrance to one of its main harbors. Unions demanded guarantees that local workers would be favored for construction jobs. And the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad saw the bridge as competition to its ferry fleet.

MONDAY, 25 MARCH, 2012 3:00--4:30

Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal, & the Battle for an American Icon, by Mitchell Pacelle. Wiley, 2001..
From the moment it was erected, the Empire State Building has been the object of obsession for more than a few, and the quest to posses the world's most famous skyscraper is a fascinating chronicle of betrayal, revenge, family rivalry, legal wrangling, and raw greed. This book offers a glimpse into the era of old-world (now largely defunct) real estate tycoons, and explores the culture clash that erupted when the new guard rose to challenge them. .

MONDAY, 23 APRIL, 2012 3:00--4:30

Frank Lloyd Wright, by Meryle Secrest. Knopf, 1992.
Explores the artistic genius & troubled personal life of a brilliant but flawed man (he abandoned his wife and 6 children with no regrets) who made no bones about wanting to be the greatest architect of all time. Examples of his innovative building style and contemporary designs--a truly American style of architecture and an example of what it means to live life based on your own convictions--are Fallingwater, Taliesin, & the iconic Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

MONDAY, 29 MAY, 2011 3:00--4:30

Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, by Daniel Okrent. Viking, 2003.
Rockefeller Center, built over an 8- to 10-year period the during Great Depression, was the result of a philanthropic gesture by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Employing thousands of laborers, it was the most ambitious construction project since the pyramids. Okrent weaves together themes of money, politics, art, architecture, business, and society to tell the story of the majestic suite of buildings that came to dominate the heart of midtown Manhattan and with it, for a time, the heart of the world.

MONDAY, 25 JUNE, 2011 3:00--4:30

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century, by Michael Hiltzik. Free Press, 2010.
Hoover Dam stands as a monument to both the politics of water rights in the American West and our nation's self-confidence and daring. In the depths of the Great Depression it became a symbol of American resilience and ingenuity in the face of crisis, putting thousands of men to work in a remote desert canyon. Hiltzik uses the saga of the dam’s conception, design, and construction to tell the broader story of America’s efforts to come to grips with titanic social, economic, and natural forces.

Titles chosen by Brad Silverman
Annotated by Lynne Kennedy

© Copyright 2011 Sachem Public Library. All rights reserved.

Previous Themes

[America's Wars] | [America's Generals] [America's Crisis]
[America's World] [America's Business] [America's West]
[America's Writers] [America's Traitors]

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