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

Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth

By Randall M. Miller and William Pencak, editors
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002 (688 pages; cloth, $49.95; paper, $24.95)

Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth is the first comprehensive history of the Keystone State in thirty years. Nearly a decade in the making, this weighty tome is one for which his­torians – avocational and professional – have been waiting! Essays by contributors representing various disciplines and fields make Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth well worth the wait. The book’s introduction, “Why Should We Care About Pennsylvania His­tory?,” provides answers to this otherwise seemingly rhetorical question: the history of the Commonwealth is among the nation’s most dis­tinctive; Pennsylvania’s story is not primarily the tale of great men, but is the history of a people who have long been known for their localism and persistence; and the cultural imprint of ethnic and religious groups continues to mark much of the state. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which chronicles the Commonwealth’s history, such as the first Pennsylvanians, the colonial period, the American Revolution; building democratic communities; civil wars between 1850 and 1900; reformation, and the post-industrial age of the second half of the twentieth century. Each of these chapters is written by a distinguished scholar whose work on the history of the period is well known. The first section concludes with a disturbing but frank epilogue, “The Making and Unmaking of the Pennsylvania Empire,” in which author Michael Zuckerman analyzes the ways in which the state captured and then, in the twentieth century, despite its “unmatched cadre of industrial leaders, superbly trained engineers, and the best-paid and most-skilled working class in the world,” squandered its “imperial position.” The book’s second section, entitled “Ways to Pennsylva­nia’s Past,” is what sets it apart – far apart – from standard state histories. Each of the nine chapters in part two, authored by experts in their field, describes a particular way for readers to discover and understand the worlds the people imagined and created. They recommend ways specific perspectives, method­ologies, and sources inform and illustrate Pennsylvania’s history, and how and why such sources have been discovered and utilized. These chapters frequently refer to examples in the book’s first section, thus encouraging readers to think about how this new state history was constructed. Essayists discuss geography, architecture, archaeology, folklore and, genealogy, photography, art, oral history, and literature as methods of uncovering and appreciating the past. Taken individually and collectively, these chapters remind readers “history is an ongoing process of inquiry and investigation leading to new interpretations.” One important feature of Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth is an extensive selection of illustrations – more than four hundred in both black and white and color! – that includes photographs, maps, drawings, and works of art selected from a number of repositories throughout the Keystone State and beyond to show how Pennsylvanians lived, worked, and played. Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth is a book that ponders and provokes; it is not a new version of the Commonwealth’s history, but a new vision made possible by an unusual partnership by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Pennsylvania State University Press and the contributors they attracted with such an exciting prospect of critically exploring a complex, often disjointed, state history.


The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance

By Dan Rottenberg
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001 (248 pages, cloth, $29.95)

It was the height of America’s Gilded Age and financier J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) controlled the fate and fortunes of railroads, corporations, and governments. The rich and powerful were said to tremble before his blinding intellect and intimidating gaze, yet he deferred to one man: Anthony J. Drexel (1826-1893) of Philadelphia. Drexel – whose name is familiar today only through the university he founded and his recently canonized niece and protégé, Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) – was the most influential financier of the nineteenth century. The second son of an Austrian emigre, Anthony J. Drexel soon established himself as the preeminent financial mind in the Philadelphia currency brokerage his father began in 1838. Shunning publicity, self-promotion, and high-profile public accolades – he declined President Ulysses S. Grant’s invitation to become secretary of the treasury – Drexel initiated a partnership with J.P. Morgan and his father, Junius Morgan (1813-1890), that became the most influential financial combination of its day. With his characteristic prescience, Drexel selected Wall Street as the site for his new branch and commissioned an opu­lent building, the likes of which the financial district had never before seen, from which the younger Morgan could conduct business for the £inn. With Drexel’s guidance, the confused, underachieving J. P. Morgan blossomed into a confident financial titan. At a time when the United States did not have a central bank, the government, as well as large-scale commercial ventures, relied on financiers to raise enormous sums of money necessary to build railroads, construct factories, and fight major wars. With branches and partnerships in London, Paris, Chica­go, and New York all benefiting from their leader’s reputation for impeccable integrity, Drexel’s firms were able to steer American business through the most extraordinary long-term economic growth of any nation in world history, as well as through four devastating depressions, an enlightening lesson in the cyclical nature of the country’s economy. Drexel and his firm quietly pioneered many of the financial and business strategies that are now taken for granted, such as trading national currencies, guaranteeing credit for travelers abroad, rewarding workers based on individual initiative, and offering “sweat equity” to deserving employees who could not afford to buy stock. By cultivating Morgan’s self-confidence and allowing his younger partner to become the public “face” for the firm, Drexel was able to avoid attention and, instead, nurture his extended family. Today, Anthony J. Drexel’s influence and accomplishments are mostly forgotten or credited to others, but this first biography of the exceptionally influential and elusive man sets the record straight. Since he gave no interviews, kept no diaries, held no public positions, and destroyed most of his personal papers, the author painstakingly tracked down every reference and anecdote he could find and, in the process, discovered one hundred and fifty previously unknown letters and cables in Drexel’s hand. Anthony J. Drexel believed there was no limit to what one could accomplish if one doesn’t mind who receives the credit, but as The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance shows, the balance has finally been paid.


Mennonite Arts

By Clarke Hess
Schiller Publishing, Ltd., 2001 (192 pages, cloth, $49.95)

A sumptuous celebration in words and pictures, Mennonite Arts is a pioneer work that presents the rich and diverse decorative arts produced by the distinctive Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania, Canada, and Europe over a period of three centuries. In his scholarly text, the author identifies a host of newly recognized Mennonite artisans of traditional textiles and quilts, furniture, clocks, carvings, wooden boxes, metals, pottery, and fraktur. Mennonite Arts opens, predictably enough, with an introduction entitled “Who Are the Mennonites?,” followed by chapters explaining their European origins and immigration to and settlement in Pennsylvania. Beginning with the book’s third chapter, “Prosperity and Expansion,” the book showcases, with stunning photography and articulate descriptions, outstanding examples of all forms of arts made by Men­nonites from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries: cupboards, mugs, tables, chests, tall case clocks, weathervanes, bookplates, drawings, pottery, linens, decorated towels, jacquard coverlets, hooked rugs, and, of course, the ubiquitous quilts that nearly everyone familiar with the sect comes to expect. In addition, the author also corrects historical errors regarding the identifies of several craftsmen, such as correcting the name of Jacob Weber to Jonas Weber, a major step toward revising current understanding of eighteenth-century crafts traditions and their practitioners. Each work is accompanied by an extensive caption, which generally discusses its maker, origins, provenance, construction, present-day whereabouts and, most importantly, its significance as a piece of material culture. The book contains more than three hundred photographs in glorious color, as well as endnotes, bibliography, and index. Mennonite Arts is the fourth and final work in a series of books produced by the publisher and the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County between 1999 and 2001 to introduce the works of art of Pennsylvania Germans to a broad audience.