Book Review: Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston by Michael Rawson


Author: Michael Rawson
Title: Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston
Publication Info: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, c2010.
ISBN: 9780674048416
Summary/Review:

This wonderfully researched and well-written history, explores the making of Boston by focusing on the social and environmental factors that shaped the city, its human ecology.  There are five sections of the book:

1. Enclosing the Common – the effort of prosperous Bostonians to enclose Boston Common, changing it from a place of work (pasturing cows and digging up turf) to a place of recreation.

2. Constructing water – the contentious development of a public waterworks, a means by which reformers hoped to improve both the health and morality of the populace, but a process that also forever changed the role of municipal government.

3. Inventing the suburbs – people move from the city, seeking pastoral cities and escape taxation, but they also miss the public works that the city provides.  Some suburbs are annexed by Boston (willingly or otherwise) while some become cities in their own right.

4. Making the harbor – the modern Boston Harbor is human-made not natural, and the processes of landmaking, dredging, damming, et al that modified it so much were a contentious issue in the 19th century when many mariners thought the harbor would be lost with natural water movement.

5. Recreating the wilderness – suburban green spaces such as the Middlesex Fells and the Blue Hills are created as a connection to the colonial forbears and the lost wilderness.

This book is a terrific means of grasping the process of urbanism for modern cities and a unique approach to the history of Boston. It pairs well with Walter Muir Whitehill’s classic Boston: A Topographical History.
Favorite Passages:

“What made that agenda so contentious was that reformers wanted to expand the role of government to achieve it.  Since government had never played a serious role in structuring how Bostonians interacted with their water supply, transferring responsibility for finding adequate water from the individual to the city seemed to some like a radical and potentially dangerous move.  Instead, early experiments in municipal water like Boston’s would prove to be the leading edge of a wave of change in municipal government.  As the century progressed, cities would expand their power to fund larger public works, often through borrowing, and they would pay the cost through general taxes rather than special assessments.  Event the cost of smaller projects that did not require bond issues would increasingly be spread out among all residents of a city.  Public water would encourage urban residents, in Boston and elsewhere, to expand their vision of the public good.” – p. 104

“The Fells and Blue Hills were designed to store information about colonial people and events and prompt visitors to recall the collected stories.  The existence of such places implies a relationship of permanence, lest the memories disappear with the monument…” – p. 269

Recommended books: Boston: A Topographical History by Walter Muir Whitehill, A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo, Boston’s Back Bay by William Newman & Wilferd E. Holton and Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston by Nancy S. Seasholes
Rating: ****

Song of the Week: “Batuque” by Dom La Nena (Jeremy Sole and Atropolis Remix)


Today’s song is a remix by KCRW DJ’s Jeremy Sole and Atropolis of the song “Batuque” by Dom La Lena.

Dom La Nena is a Brazilian-born cellist, singer and songwriter now based in Paris whose debut album Ela was released in 2013.

What are you listening to this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Left Hand Polestar Pilsner


Beer: Polestar Pilsner
Brewer: Left Hand Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: ** (6.5 of 10)
Comments: Served in a frost mug, drinking this beer made me feel like I’d gone back a few generations when no-nonsense men drank simple pilseners in dank bars, like in a Spenser novel.  The beer was straw-colored with little carbonation and surprisingly thin head.  The aroma is mild with some grassyness and citrus notes.  The flavor is also grassy with a biscuit taste and creamy malt undertones.  It leaves behind lots of whispy lacing.  Not bad.

 

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green


Author:John Greene
TitleAn Abundance of Katherines 
Publication Info: New York, NY : Dutton Books, c2006.
ISBN: 0525476881

Previously Read By Same Author:  The Fault in Our Stars
Summary/Review:  Colin is a teenage former child prodigy, socially awkward, and has dated 19 girls all of whom are named Katherine.  After being dumped by Katherine #19, his friend Hassan encourages Colin to go on a road trip and they end up in rural Tennessee.  There they work collecting oral histories for a woman who runs a tampon string factory and Colin devises a mathematical formula for relationships which end in getting dump.  It’s entertaining book with a lot of laughs, but I find the characters too self-consciously quirky to get emotionally invested in.  Perhaps a good beach read, but not the excellent work of fiction of The Fault in Our Stars.

Recommended booksIn Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Monster in the Mist by Andrew Mayne


Author: Andrew Mayne
Title: The Monster in the Mist
Publication Info: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
ISBN: B0056A295I
Summary/Review:

I got this eBook as a special deal for Kindle on Amazon, not knowing much about it other than it was a mystery set in Boston in 1890 with a steampunk vibe.  April Malone is a young woman whose mysterious job is to tend an office where no one works and take lessons on various esoteric topics.  All of this is preparation for the arrival of the also mysterious man who just goes by the name Smith who emerges from behind a steel door one day and sets the pair on investigating several disappearances of people in Boston.  Smith is reminiscent of The Doctor from Doctor Who (who also sometimes goes by the name Smith) and the relationship of April Malone and Smith owes a debt to Holmes & Watson, but it’s not entirely derivative.  I was won over by the first part of this book, but less enamored with the latter half.  This is because Smith goes off on his own adventure and while ultimately aided by April, I think the book lacks something when not seen from her perspective as well as the interesting chemistry between the two characters.  This book is the first in a series of Chronological Man Adventures, and I hope that in future installments that two leads stay together.

Recommended booksThe Technologists by Matthew Pearl, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch.
Rating: ***

The Popular Perception of Archivists


An interesting blog post on my profession.

Meridith Halsey

Below is the text of an email I sent to the New York Times today.

Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2014 13:59:06 -0500
Subject: Re: “New York Court Archivist Isn’t Letting Retirement Stop Him”
From: Meridith Halsey <mlhalsey@gmail.com>
To: character@nytimes.com

Is it with concern and disappointment that I write to you about the article by Corey Kilgannon entitled, “New York Court Archivist Isn’t Letting Retirement Stop Him.”

The article almost touches on a pressing issue facing the archival profession today: the decision of many institutions to let their archives programs lapse. This seems as though it might be the case at the court archives in New York, but the point is left vague. A important question to answer is, are the records under Mr. Abrams’ care still accessible to the public? How will New York’s lawyers conduct research on state cases from the pre-internet era? How will journalists be able to do the same? It seemed clear that Mr. Abrams…

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Movie Review: Slap Shot (1977)


Title: Slap Shot
Release Date: 25 February 1977
Director: George Roy Hill
Production Co: Kings Road Entertainment
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Sport
Rating: ****

Another classic comedy that I never got around to seeing until now.  With the closing of the local factory, the Charlestown Chiefs are likely to fold at the end of the season.  Aging player-coach Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) carries out a series of Machiavellian schemes to increase the teams value so that it will be sold to another owner.  This primarily involves having his team use goon tactics, which successfully draws in the crowds and helps them win games.  Concurrently, Reg also plots to reunite with his ex-wife and reconcile the strained relationship of the Chiefs’ top scorer and his alcoholic wife.

This movie exudes the 1970s in the clothing, music, sexual liberation, and a carefree attitude in a world falling apart.  There are a lot of great gags and lines with much of the humor coming from silly characters like the Quebecois goalkeeper and the uber-violent (and extremely dumb) Hanson brothers.  But there’s also a gravitas underlining the film that keeps it from being just a screwball comedy although not enough to turn it into a “dramedy.”  The ending of the film is utterly bizarre, but it it’s appropriate to the movie.

Boston Olympics?


With the Winter Olympics in full swing right now, I thought it would be a good time to bring back my post on why Boston & New England should host the Winter Games.

Panorama of the Mountains

On Sunday night during the broadcast of the Closing Ceremonies from the 2012 Summer Olympics in Boston, a trend started on Twitter asking what an Olympics in Boston might be like.  Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub who started the trend Storified the many humorous responses.  My own contribution was to suggest that Big Papi would carry the torch up the Charles on a speedboat.  Almost instantly after tweeting I knew I should have said Duck Boat instead, and several people rightly corrected me.

It’s not very likely that Boston would ever host the Summer Olympics in reality as the city is too small to welcome so many people at once and constructing all the necessary venues would be cost prohibitive and difficult to justify beyond the games (although it should be noted that Boston has played its part in Olympic history).  I got to thinking though that Boston could…

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