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

The Spectator and the Topographical City

by Martin Aurand
published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006; 232 pages, cloth, $29.95

Martin Aurand’s The Spectator and the Topographical City examines Pittsburgh’s built environment as it relates to the city’s unique topography. The author explores the conditions present in the natural landscape that led to the creation of architectural formsman’s response to an unruly terrain of hills, hollows, and rivers. From its origins as a frontier fortification to its heyday of industrial expansion, through eras of City Beautiful planning and urban renaissance, to today’s vision of a green, sustainable city, Pittsburgh has yielded environmental and architectural experiences unlike any other place.

The author adopts the viewpoint of a spectator to study three of the city’s “terrestrial rooms,” inhabited spaces encapsulated by landforms: the downtown Golden Triangle; the Turtle Creek Valley, with its heavily industrialized landscape; and Oakland, the cultural and university district. He examines the development of these distinctive areas and their significance to contemporary perceptions of a singular American city, shaped to its topography.

“While Pittsburgh was, for a time, the quintessential industrial city,” Aurand writes, “it was always and is today the quintessential topographical city. It is among those cities that, in the words of [architectural writer] Spiro Kostof, ‘respond so fatefully to the sculpture of the land that it is impossible to isolate the urban experience from earth-induced affects.’ The land generates its own history, and the built environment — whether by design, intuition, or coincidence — is an act of topographical response.” Aurand believes Pittsburgh stands at the intersection of land and city, landscape and architecture, the natural and the manmade, yet this dichotomy, he contends, has been rarely acknowledged. Written works about Pittsburgh frequently begin with a few introductory paragraphs in praise of the terrain — and then move on to other topics.

According to Aurand, Pittsburgh’s greatest of the three terrestrial rooms is the area known as the Golden Triangle, the city’s point of origin and downtown core. The Golden Triangle lies within the basin at the confluence of the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio Rivers, one of the country’s truly great natural settings. Hemmed in by land and water, the area is densely concentrated and has been rebuilt several times, making it a place of multiple eras, as well as varying visions and varieties of topographical response. Ten miles east of the Golden Triangle, Turtle Creek empties into the Monongahela River at the mouth of the Turtle Creek Valley. The lower end of the valley is an industrial landscape of waterways, railroads, factories, mills, and a remarkable bridge. Pittsburgh’s Oakland section is one of the tremendous, albeit little known, sites of American architecture, landscape, and urbanism. Oakland is home to art museums and galleries, universities, history centers, and cultural institutions.

The author reminds readers that experience of the land and the city is closely associated with images. Pittsburgh’s topographical space is pictorial space. The role of landscape in culture, as it has emerged since the eighteenth century through landscape design, landscape painting, and the romanticism of nature, has left most people unable to talk about or look at landscape without conjuring up pictures. To dramatically illustrate this point, the author includes dozens of images in The Spectator and the Topographical City, among them vintage postcards, paintings, drawings, maps, and photographs.


Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania, 1682–1800

by Jack D. Marietta and G. S. Stone
published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006; 353 pages, cloth, $59.95

“This is a history of crime in a place where there should have been no significant crime and a history of laws and law enforcement where there should have been little need for them,” opens Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania, 1682–1800, by Jack D. Marietta and G. S. Stone. Eighteenth-century Pennsylvanians killed and abused each other at a pace that outstripped most of their English and American contemporaries and rivaled some of the worst crime rates in the following two hundred years. They victimized their families and neighbors, their enemies and rivals, and the powerful and the weak. Yet the land they inhabited was William Penn’s beloved “Holy Experiment,” renowned as the “best poor man’s country on earth,” and memorialized as the “Peaceable Kingdom.” Troubled Experiment chronicles the extravagant crime in this unlikely place and explains how the disparity between reputation and reality arose. For instance, in “a land where peace and happiness reigning with justice and liberty among this people of brothers,” a husband killed and mutilated his wife, and then crushed the skulls of his two daughters and a neighbor’s child.

This book attaches numbers and faces to the criminals and their victims, and to the magistrates, judges, and others seeking to maintain a civil society in the face of violence and licentiousness. To provide such detail, the authors assembled an impressive array of archival materials, including all the extant public court records. No previous work has looked so closely at the volume and variety of crime in the Quaker province, the identity of the perpetrators of crime, their victims, and their prosecutors. The authors also examine the historical record of women, children, African Americans, and white ethnic groups in their behavior as criminals, victims, and other actors in the criminal justice system.

Pennsylvanians exalted the freedom and toleration their province offered, but Troubled Experiment explains that they confronted abuses of freedom that made them reexamine their tolerance and rethink their idealism. This work lends a new perspective to the conventional characterization of Pennsylvania by adding the momentous dimensions of crime and punishment. The authors conclude by depicting Pennsylvania — vaunted as an enlightened, free society — as a community suffering from the problems of crime that plague America today.


Industrial Genius: The Working Life of Charles Michael Schwab

by Kenneth Warren
published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007; 285 pages, cloth, $35.00

Employees, business associates, and competitors throughout the world knew Pennsylvania native Charles M. Schwab (1862–1939) as a congenial and charismatic individual — a born salesman and a man whom Thomas Alva Edison called a “master hustler.” He was much more than a salesman, though. Schwab was a captain of industry, a man who streamlined and economized the production of steel and ran the largest steelmaking conglomerate in the world. Self-made, he became one of the wealthiest Americans during the Gilded Age of the second half of the nineteenth century, only to die penniless in 1939.

Schwab began his career as a stake driver at Andrew Carnegie’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Pittsburgh at the age of seventeen. By thirty-five, he was president of the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1901, he helped form the United States Steel Corporation, a company that produced well more than half of the nation’s iron and steel. He left U.S. Steel three years later to head the Bethlehem Steel Company which, after twelve years under his leadership, became the second-largest steel producer in the United States. President Woodrow Wilson called on Schwab to lead the Emergency Fleet Corporation to manufacture merchant ships for the transport of troops and materials to Europe during World War I.

In Industrial Genius: The Working Life of Charles Michael Schwab, author Kenneth Warren presents a compelling biography that chronicles the startling success of Schwab’s business career, his leadership abilities, and his drive to revolutionize steel-making technology and operations. Through extensive research and use of previously unpublished archival documentation, the author offers a new perspective on the life of a monumental figure — and true visionary — in the industrial history of America.


These Just In…

A number of new and recent books about Pennsylvania history have been received by Pennsylvania Heritage’s editorial staff, which has not had the opportunity to review them, but wishes to share news of their availability with readers.

Pennsylvania: A Pictorial Guide, published by Traub Company, 2006; 48 pages, paper, $5.95.

A History of Company C, 50th Pennsylvania Veterans Volunteer Infantry Regiment: From the Camp, the Battlefield, and the Prison Pen, 1861–1865, by J. Stuart Richards, published by The History Press, 2006; 223 pages, paper, $21.99.

Pennsylvania Impressions, by John McGrail, published by Farcountry Press, 2005; 80 pages, paper, $9.95.

The Pirates Reader, edited by Richard Peterson, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007; 339 pages, paper, $19.95.

Scenes of America: Harrisburg, by Linda A. Ries, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2005; 127 pages, paper, $9.99.

Gleanings: From Pittsburgh & W. Pa.: Newspaper & c, Views, 1786–1886, by J. K. Folmar I, published by Yohogania Press, 2006; 260 pages, paper, $20.00.

Images of America: El Viaje, Puerto Ricans of Philadelphia, by Carmen Teresa Whalen, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2006; 128 pages, paper, $19.99.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania: A History, Part Two: 1937–1980, by Randy Whittle, published by The History Press, 2007; 256 Pages, paper, $24.99.