The subtitle of the book, by Peter L. Bernstein, is The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation. That should have been a small clue about the true subject of the book.
My mother bought it for my father for Christmas thinking it was about the actual construction of the Canal. She had it shipped here to await their arrival, and I sneaked a peek a few times, then asked my dad if I could borrow it when he was finished. My mom brought it to me when she was here for Lily's birthday, and I dove right in.
Most of the book is about the politics that went on around the building of the canal - those who supported it, those who were against it - and the elections on state and national levels that were affected by the canal. The author also spends a great deal of time on the financial impact the canal had on New York State and the country. The canal spurred a great deal of industrial growth in New York. Towns sprang up along the canal path, along with manufacturing plants. Farmers were able to grow more crops because they could sell them to more people thanks to being able to ship them down to Albany and then on to New York City. People took tourist excursions on the packet boats that travelled the canals, leading to a need for inns and restaurants.
While all the information on the politics and industry was interesting, I would have loved the book to include more about the building of the canal itself. The men building the canal had to learn as they went - there were no structural engineers in the country at the start of the canal's building - and they had the most primitive of tools and explosives available to them. That they accomplished so much with so little is a true testament to what mankind can do when it puts its mind to it. I also would have liked more maps and pictures. I want authors to show me the things they're describing. Plus, I just love maps.