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Wedding of the Waters

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Wedding of the Waters

The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation

W.W. Norton,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Did the New Yorkers who fought to build the Erie Canal in 1817 know that they were opening America for global business?

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


From a modern perspective, a ditch allowing barges to travel between Rust Belt cities in upstate New York hardly seems the stuff of high drama. But well-regarded economist and historian Peter L. Bernstein accomplishes the tough task of making readers care about the Erie Canal, the massive public works project that he believes changed the course of U.S. and world politics and trade. This compelling study portrays the waterway as a project involving enough risk and adventure to make a dot-com entrepreneur pale. Bernstein girds his history with ample modern-day perspectives to keep you interested. He does bog down at times in the arcane convolutions of early nineteenth century political disputes, but still spins a mostly fascinating yarn. recommends this book to anyone looking for insight into this pivotal point in America’s - and, perhaps, the world’s - economic development.


A Revolutionary Ditch

By the standards of today’s technology, the Erie Canal seems a decidedly primitive and unglamorous project. Long unused, at least for commerce, the ditch stretches 363 miles from Albany in eastern New York to Buffalo on the western edge of the state. In its day, the canal was nothing short of revolutionary.

When the waterway finally was completed in 1825, it connected Lake Erie to the Hudson River, linking New York City and the Great Lakes for the purpose of trade. Without the canal, the United States as we know it today probably would not exist. After all, the Appalachian Mountains divide the coastal settlements from the rest of the nation. Mountains traditionally form such a daunting geographic barrier that nations seldom span a mountain range. Had the canal not been built, the western territories of the United States probably would have lacked strong links to the rest of the country and, based on sheer geography, would have broken away into separate nations. Instead, the canal proved crucial at its time in the history of the nation, opening up the western territories to commercially viable settlement, and setting the stage for an economy linking...

About the Author

Peter L. Bernstein is the author of nine books, including the bestseller Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. His other books include A Primer on Money, Banking, and Gold and The Price of Prosperity. He is an economic consultant and publishes Economics and Portfolio Strategy, a newsletter for institutional investors.

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