With wit and passion, Strand (Flight: A Novel ) explores the history of Niagara Falls and shows that the famous natural wonder is in reality a prime example of man’s manipulation of nature, constantly exploited to attract tourists. In the 19th century, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, appalled by the crass commercialism of souvenir shops, ugly signs and cheap attractions, pledged to restore Niagara to its natural beauty; instead, he created a fake wilderness. In the 20th century, humans learned to control the falls by harnessing them for electric power, and this led to what is for Strand the most shocking fakery: the water going over the falls is manipulated for greater output in the daytime-to impress visitors-and turned down at night to generate more power. In addition, the capacity to generate large amounts of hydroelectricity has made Niagara Falls a prime spot for industries that manufacture electrochemical products and for nuclear weapons facilities; the author paints a vivid picture of a region awash today in toxic waste and radioactive contaminants. Strand’s provocative and iconoclastic book says much about how America has dominated nature, despoiled it and shrouded the offense in myth.
This addition to Gierach’s long list of fishing books is perhaps not of trophy quality, but it’s definitely a keeper. Gierach gets back to the basics of fishing in a collection of personal essays in which he contends that fishing is as much about being outdoors with a few friends who share the same passion as it is about catching fish. Of course, he still thrills at the fish’s strike and he lands his fair share of them, but he spends as much time describing other aspects of the sport: getting there, what to do in foul weather, camping etiquette and predicting hatches. He even spends some time ruminating on hunting and the business of rod making. With the simple grace and native wisdom he is known for, Gierach always gets back around to fishing and pays special tribute to the fish themselves, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of North American fish, their feeding habits and their exquisite colorings. Occasionally, he comments on environmental issues such as the effects of logging and housing developments on local streams, but he seems resigned to such encroachments, claiming that he can live with change as long as the fish are biting; such, he confesses, is his “fool’s paradise.”
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