My father introduced me to the topic for this book when I was seven years old, when he took me, my younger brother, and our shaggy dog outside most weekends to explore New York’s public parks. When we lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, this often entailed a journey to nearby Tibbetts Brook, a county park with an enormous public swimming pool built during the early years of the Great Depression. Years later, when my family left the city and moved up the Hudson River, my father continued these outings. He would take us by car to Bear Mountain State Park, up in the Hudson Highlands, whose miles of hiking trails, half a dozen artificial swimming lakes, and fourstory lookout tower that offered views of the Empire State Building fifty miles to the south were also developed during the New Deal era. It was my curiosity about the building of these outdoor landscapes during the 1930s, and the impact they had on young people like my brother and me in the postwar era, that years later sparked this book.
This project began in earnest at New York University, in a graduate research seminar taught by Lizabeth Cohen, who became my primary adviser before leaving NYU for Harvard. While her own scholarship on New Deal politics has obviously influenced my work, her talents as a teacher guided the research and writing of this book from start to finish; no other person I’ve come in contact with during my career as a historian has pushed me harder to think analytically about the past. Liz always encouraged me to pursue environmental history, but to do so without losing sight of the larger historical questions affecting U.S. history writ large. “But how does your environmental history change the way we think about American history?” she asked me over