Review: Making Mountains: New York City and the Catskills

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Review: Making Mountains: New York City and the Catskills By David Stradling Reviewed by Peter C. Little Oregon State University, USA Stradling, David. Making Mountains: New York City and the Catskills. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007. 311pp. ISBN: 978-0-295-98747-7. US$35.00, hardback.

One's first impression of a book entitled Making Mountains might be that it is some geology text with a catchy title. But, what makes Making Mountains: New York City and the Catskills by historian David Stradling different and an engaging read is its focus on and exploration of the bridgeable chasm between the country and the city, the rural and the urban, the metropolis and the mountain chain, places of change and places of assumed stasis. The essence or gravity of Stradling's scholarship is the entanglement or blending of the rural and the urban that he attempts to keep alive with each chapter and with each page. Making Mountains is not about the imperial take-over of the country by the urban elite, but instead a story about a "blending process" (p.15) depicting a "landscape shaped by many hands, many minds-some urban, some rural, many that were both. And so this work reveals no conspiratorial power of the city over the country-no real empire" (ibid.). With its close ties to and tensions with the work of cultural historian and literary critic Raymond Williams, particularly his influential The Country and the City (1978), this book is as much a personal memoir as it is a scholarly work with theoretical import in rural-urban relations discussions and debates. With family roots in the Catskill region and a keen knowledge of the environmental and cultural history of this rural territory of New York, Stradling cleverly connects his interest in his own family history with his commitment to constructing a responsible historical account of the Catskills economy and landscape vis-à-vis the natural and cultural demands of New York City.

Making Mountains contains chapters dedicated to a variety of forces marking the Catskill landscape, including natural resources, industry, art, adventure, and tourism. Neither is entirely autonomous and it is their combined influence that seems to be critical to this piece of scholarship. As a terrain that helped shape early 19th century American conceptions of "nature"; as a landscape visually captured, reconfigured, idealized, and even mythified by the enthusiastic flood of Hudson River School painters (e. …