Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1895-1995

by Joe Kosack
Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1995 (233 pages, cloth, $12.95)

Subtitled 100 Years of Wildlife Conservation, this book opens by placing the reader on Commonwealth soil with the arrival, about 1610, of the first white settlers – long before the Pennsylvania Game Commission existed. As the earliest settlers scrabbled to make a life in Pennsylvania, they competed with timber wolves and mountain lions for food animals such as deer and elk. Beavers, vital to early trade, in time vanished from Pennsylvania because of overharvest, but eventually returned several decades later through carefully calculated reintroduction efforts. By the late nineteenth century, it had become clear that wild animals and birds hunted for food or sport required management and protection. On June 25, 1895, Governor Daniel H. Hastings signed a bill creating the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Even so, some practices had already led to in­evitable results. Loss of habitat and the commercial demand for meat in the late nineteenth century led to the extinction of the passenger pigeon by 1914, a loss so incomprehensible that many people refused to believe it had happened. After massive timbering in the early years of this century literally stripped the Commonwealth of its once vast and incredibly rich forests, the deer population plummeted and the Pennsylvania Game Commission was forced to acquire deer from other states to restock Pennsylvania. In more recent years, Pennsylvania’s herd has grown to nearly a million deer, but the management of this living resource has never proven an easy task. Wildlife management – now a complex meld of biology, sociology, and political science -­ has grown sophisticated since the days when the agency paid bounties for predators such as foxes, bobcats, hawks, and owls. Once shot by the hundreds of thousands, birds of prey are now protected. Modern restoration projects and innovative experimental programs have returned several native wildlife species to their former haunts, including river ot­ters, bald eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons that were nearly driven from the Keystone State by pollution. To protect the health of wildlife populations, leaders began – just ten years after their agency was created – to lease land for “game refuges,” and in time began buying property, establishing the state game lands system. Today, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s holdings total nearly a million and a half acres – a land area larger than the entire state of Delaware! The Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1895-1995: 100 Years of Wildlife Conservation captures the times and events, the successes and the failures, that have shaped the Commonwealth’s wildlife management program, and brings to life the relationships that have developed between Pennsylvanians and their natural world. The book is neither a litany of benchmarks in the agency’s history nor a catalogue of achievements and setbacks, but a sound introduction to the ways the Commonwealth, through the Pennsylvania Game Commission, manages land and implements policies for the health and welfare of both animals and people.


Luzerne County: History of the People and Culture

by Paul J. Zbiek
Wyoming Valley Historical and Geological Society, 1995 (142 pages, cloth, $35.00)

On April 19, 1763, Chief Teedyuscung, leader of the Delawares in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, was killed by a group of Connecticut Yankee settlers. This hostility was the first in what would be more than two centuries of social, regional, political, and economic conflicts in the region. Despite seemingly constant conflicts, the people of Luzerne County developed their own common identity. Luzerne County: History of the People and Culture chronicles the area’s social development by examining the county’s history from the earliest Indian settlements to the economic recovery of this decade. The author dis­cusses Luzerne County’s social growth as affected by the Yankee-Pennamite Wars of the late eighteenth century, the rise and fall of “King Coal,” and the in­flux of European immigrants to the Wyoming Valley. Rather than offering the traditional, almost idealized look at community history, Luzerne County probes the continual diversity of the county’s population and shows how such ethnic differences, ironically, led to its social unity. The book, dubbed an “illustrated history,” showcases the ever-changing heritage and industrial landscape of the region with hundreds of photographs, many of which have never before been published. The history also features several sidebars which offer glimpses of daily life, examine changing modes of transportation, and analyze various industries, particularly the anthracite trade. Luzerne County: History of the People and Culture is a well written and copiously illustrated guide to the heritage of the county established in 1786 and named for Chevalier de la Luzerne, French minister to America. Readers who enjoy a wide variety of topic – ­architecture, agriculture, immigration, and economics – will find this book to be informative and enjoyable.


Benjamin Franklin in American Thought and Culture, 1790-1990

by Nian-Sheng Huang
American Philosophical Society, 1994 (270 pages, cloth, $25.00)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a scientist, inventor, diplomat and states­man, writer, and printer. The impressions and impact he made are just as complex and diverse as the life he led. Since his death in 1790, he has been described in a number of ways, usually preceded by the word “first” – from America’s “first philosopher” to its “first dummy.” Benjamin Franklin in American Thought and Culture, 1790-1990, examines the changing opinions about its subject over the course of two centuries. The author contends that the perception of Franklin’s legacy shifted as the country’s social and cultural characteristics changed . According to the author, the greatest transformation occurred on the eve of the Civil War, as the United States turned from a society judged by character to one which evaluated itself on personality. Before the outbreak of the war, Americans saw one another in terms of their public image and achievements; after 1870, however, they identified themselves (and each other) with personal characteristics, such as physical appearance and morality. Before 1860, Benjamin Franklin was seen as an individual who succeeded in virtually every endeavor. His social, political, and economic accomplishments were interpreted as signs of great character. Printers considered him their “patron saint” and economists saw him as the work ethic personified. In his posthumously published Autobiography, Americans found the inspiration for social mobility. However, the post-Civil War era changed the way in which Franklin was viewed – his image was no longer obscured by his achievements. Instead, America examined his legacy in terms of personal qualities that made him successful. The scrutiny of his personality led to a more humanized view of his life. Writers stressed his physical imperfections and his indulging manner at the court of France over his accomplishments. The rise of sensationalism in journalism also caused the image of Franklin to be subjected to speculation and, in many cases, outright gossip. Newspapers and magazines devoted space to scandals involving Franklin, or his illegitimate son William, but nothing exemplified the shift in public perception more than the change in the celebration of Franklin Day. Originally designed to commemorate Franklin’s birthday, the festivities gave small, professional print­ers of the nineteenth century an opportunity to celebrate the most famous of their brethren and to share their own stories which paralleled Franklin’s climb to success. However, as time passed, Franklin Day evolved into a gala party reserved for the elite of the publishing industry, during which the only mention of Benjamin Franklin came in the form of a joke in the opening speech. Beginning with World War II, American culture and values changed again, emphasizing both character and personality. The result was a new portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Characterized in works such as Robert Lawson’s 1939 children’s book Ben and Me and in the smash Broadway play “1776,” Franklin’s persona became more humane, more personal, and less perfect, but remained distinguished and inspirational. The variety of ways in which Benjamin Franklin has been perceived through time illustrates that history is dynamic, constantly being revised by new minds with new ideas. Benjamin Franklin in American Thought and Culture, 1790-1990, cautions readers that there is no one “truth” in history, that the past is seen through the cultural bias of the time at which it is studied.