Thursday, January 25, 2024

Literally the Best Reviews: Love Canal

 Love Canal: A Toxic History From Colonial Times to the Present

  • Richard S. Newman

Oxford University Press

328 Pages

I read Love Canal by Richard S. Newman immediately after I read Paradise Falls by Keith O’Brien. It was sitting on the shelf waiting to be read, and I figured that I should just make it a week or so of Love Canal and local history. I was hoping to juxtapose the two books against each other to show different viewpoints on the same subject. In the end, I was almost as dissatisfied with this book as I had been with O’Brien’s.

Richard S. Newman does a fine job of recreating the events that led up to the Love Canal disaster. In a departure from Paradise Falls, Newman doesn’t spend as much time on the lives of the people who suffered through the ordeal. Instead, Newman’s book covers, succinctly, each event that ended in the tragedy on the Niagara River. This book takes each piece of the puzzle and puts it in its correct place. There’s not a lot of extraneous information here, but what is here is deftly told and described. Each piece works together to build a concise history of the site. Newman puts it all together very nicely.

What’s missing is the human element. Newman does touch upon the daily lives of some of the people affected, but not nearly as well as O’Brien did in Paradise Falls. Newman takes a more “matter of fact” approach to his writing. As a local historian this was a nice summary of the facts, collated into a single volume. Obviously, there was a lot to the Love Canal story that could have been added, but where is the line drawn? How long would that book be?

The biggest deficit to Love Canal  by Richard S. Newman is actually thrown into the open by the splendid job O’Brien did in the other work. O’Brien spent so much time on the human aspect, while Newman only slightly touched upon it. In a perfect world, these two books would procreate into a new book that took the best parts of each and got that published. 

While Love Canal was clinical, it was well written and easy to read. If you’re looking for some information on those events, this is a good place. You will get the gist of the basics. My suggestion would be to read Love Canal by Richard S. Newman alongside of Paradise Falls by Keith O’Brien. Putting them together will provide you with so much of the story of the toxic mess left behind. 

Craig Bacon is still infatuated with local history. After reading both these books about Love Canal, we pulled out the boxes at the Historians Office to read more.