NIAGARA: A HISTORY OF THE FALLS, by Pierre Berton, Kodansha America, Inc., 480 pages, $27.
This study of Niagara Falls by Canada’s best-known historian chronicles the history of one of North America’s most spectacular natural wonders of nature and major tourist attractions, which draws more than 12 million visitors each summer. Formed some 15,000 years ago, the Falls were described for the first time to Europeans in 1683 by Belgian missionary Father Louis Hennepin. Berton details the exploitation of the Falls in the early nineteenth century, when entrepreneurs built hotels, shops, and taverns to attract tourists and sent panthers, bears, buffaloes, and wolves over the Falls to their deaths in condemned boats in order to thrill the crowds. He recounts the escapades of daredevils who went over the Falls in barrels or small boats and the bravery of French tightrope walker Jean François Gravelet, who crossed the Falls balanced on a three-inch-wide manila rope. Berton also tells the story of Roger Woodward, who was swept over the Falls in 1960 with no more protection than a life jacket–and survived.