Chesapeake Quarterly
New Books by Local Authors
Anacostia: The Death and Life of an American River
Anacostia: The Death &
Life of an American River

By John R. Wennersten
Chesapeake Book Company, 2008

IF THE ANACOSTIA is the nation's forgotten river, then John Wennersten is helping us to remember it.

Wennersten is the right man for the job. Author of books like The Oyster Wars and The Chesapeake Bay: An Environmental Biography, he has a knack for evoking the richness of Bay history.

The picture he paints for us of the Anacostia is not always pretty.

Out of a plantation culture that gave us leaders like George Washington, mansions like Mount Vernon, and a national capital at the confluence of the Potomac and the Anacostia, came other legacies. Slavery. Social and racial divides. Rampant land speculation and bankruptcy.

The Anacostia rises from this difficult and bloody past with a fascinating story to tell. There are grand dreams by Washington D.C.'s designer, Pierre L'Enfant, to make the city a great international port, using the Anacostia's deep channels. There are bold financial ventures and shady dealings, personal fortunes made and lost.

This story of the Anacostia is often one of degradation, of the ruined environmental health of the river and of the disenfranchised communities that have lived on its shores.

But Wennersten ends his book with currents of hope and an "Anacostia prayer." He sees that the grand dreams have not died after all, and he concludes that urban watersheds — even highly degraded ones — can be restored, if we only have the will.

Jack Greer

March 2009
vol. 8, no. 1
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