Synopses & Reviews
In 2001, journalist Jessica DuLong ditched her dot-com desk job for the diesel engines of a rusty antique fireboat, the John J. Harvey
, and the storied waters of the Hudson River. My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America on the Hudson
tells the story of this mechanic's daughter and Stanford graduate who had left her blue-collar upbringing behind until the fireboat drew her back, offering a chance to become an engineer and a taste of home she hadn't realized she was missing.
The more time DuLong spent toiling in the engine room, running the boat's finely crafted machinery, the more she wondered what America is losing in our shift away from handson work. These questions crystallized in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, when the FDNY called the retired fireboat back into service, and DuLong and the rest of the boat's civilian crew pumped water to fight blazes at Ground Zero. As blue-collar workers clambered on the pile, DuLong was struck by the dignity of physical labor and the honor of having joined the world of skilled labor whose talents were useful at the site.
DuLong brings her two worlds vibrantly to life in this beautifully written memoir that evokes the vitality of New York City's bygone working waterfront and the Hudson River, a birthplace of American industry. Blending four centuries of Hudson River history with unforgettable present-day characters and events, DuLong offers a porthole-view narrative of the river and its social tapestry as a microcosm of postindustrial America. As she tracks changes along the shoreline, where industrial sites give way to recreational respites, a celebration of American labor and craftsmanship emerges. While searching along the river's edge for the meaning of work in America, DuLong pays homage to our industrial past and raises important questions about the future at this pivotal moment in our national story.
My River Chronicles is a journey with an extraordinary guide, a woman who bridges blue-collar and white-collar worlds and turns a phrase as deftly as she does a wrench. Soulful and illuminating, My River Chronicles is a deeply personal story of a unique woman's discovery of her own roots -- and America's -- as she runs the fireboat's diesels on the ever-changing river that flows both ways.
"The engine room is, in DuLong’s opinion, a tribute to an era of craftsmanship that is very nearly extinct." - The New Yorker
"Smart, captivating prose . . . [Readers] will love this unusual mix of history, adventure, feminism and blue-collar know-how. Highly recommended." - Library Journal
"As both a writer and an engineer, she’s relentlessly, gratifyingly curious, and her fine, richly detailed prose holds an appeal regardless of your level of interest in heritage histories and engine mechanics. . . . [T]he whole book is so layered and compelling that the intensity of 9/11 doesn’t overpower the slower, more meditative sections. . . . DuLong’s passion for her craft is contagious, making My River Chronicles one of the most moving, unusual books I’ve read in a long time." - Bookslut
"Jessica DuLong is a lucky woman. She stumbled into an obscure world- the overheated engine room of an old fireboat - and discovered that she belonged there. Readers are lucky, too, because she has managed to translate her love affair with the water into a finely written and fascinating story about a lost American way of life." - Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic
"She details her often exhilarating experiences in her very fine and gutsy book. Ms. DuLong is a confident and sensual writer, as perceptive about small matters on a boat as was Anthony Bourdain, in Kitchen Confidential, about everyday events in a professional kitchen. . . . Readers will feel their own little yelps of glee all over My River Chronicles." - The New York Times ArtsBeat blog
"An unexpected portrayal of America in the decline of industry, delivered from the unique vantage point of the Hudson River. . . . [A]n eye-opening picture of what America has been . . . and what it is becoming. . . . Powerful." - Kirkus, starred review
"Jessica DuLong’s elegantly written My River Chronicles brings the past of the Hudson River into the vivid present and carries forward the craft of literary non-fiction with grace and energy." - Gay Talese, author of A Writer’s Life and Unto the Sons
"When Jessica DuLong describes her work in the engine room of the John J. Harvey, you can practically feel the throb of the boat’s mighty diesels. This is someone who has paid some dues, and it shows in the details. Her view through a narrow portal at the water line opens into a bigger picture of the Hudson River, the economy of New York, and the dignity of work - the kind of work that is genuinely useful. My River Chronicles is an account of what made this country thrive, and might yet again: men and women who aren’t content to stand around with their hands in their pockets. The book reeks of penetrating oil, which may be just what is needed to get our economy, and our culture, moving again." - Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
"In rich and captivating prose, Jessica DuLong kindly invites the rest of us on the journey of her lifetime: from a dot-com job to the fabled waters of the Hudson River, where she became a fireboat engineer. This is an unusual and fascinating book." - Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
"If you’ve ever wondered what we’re missing by sitting at computers in cubicles all day, follow Jessica DuLong when she loses her desk job and embarks on this unlikely but fantastic voyage. Deeply original, riveting to read, and soul-bearingly honest, My River Chronicles is a surprisingly infectious romance about a young woman falling in love with a muscle-y old boat. As DuLong learns to navigate her way through a man’s world of tools and engines, and across the swirling currents of a temperamental river, her book also becomes a love letter to a nation. In tune with the challenges of our times, DuLong reminds us of the skills and dedication that built America, and inspires us to renew ourselves once again." - Trevor Corson, author of The Story of Sushi and The Secret Life of Lobsters
When journalist Jessica DuLong ditched her dotcom desk job to ply the waters of the Hudson River as engineer of a rusty antique fireboat, she found a taste of home in a maritime community that was quickly disappearing. In this heartfelt and marvelously illuminating book, she weaves together stories of life on the water with tales from Hudson Valley history.
Published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic voyage up the river that bears his name, My River Chronicles is a journey with an extraordinary guide. Once Jessica DuLong started toiling in the engine room of Fireboat John J. Harvey, she never looked back. The more time she spent with the boat’s finely crafted machinery, the more she wondered what America is losing in our shift away from hands-on work. Her service pumping water to fight blazes at Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks reinforced in her mind the importance of blue-collar skills. Masterfully grounding her own experiences with narratives from the river’s rich history, she introduces us to seventeenth-century explorers, nineteenth-century canal builders, and a cast of present-day characters—including a salvage diver hunting sunken tugboats, a foundryman who casts iron in the old way, and a distiller who crafts bourbon from local corn—that reminds us how colorful and dynamic the Hudson continues to be. What emerges is a celebration of labor (and leisure) from a woman who straddles blue-collar and white-collar worlds and turns a phrase as deftly as she does a wrench.
About the Author
Jessica DuLong, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed Merchant Marine Officer, is one of the world’s only female fireboat engineers. She’s also a journalist whose work has appeared in Newsweek International
, Rolling Stone
, Psychology Today
, CosmoGIRL!, Parenting
, Today’s Machining World
, and Maritime Reporter & Engineering News
, and other publications. Her passion for the Hudson River
took shape at her post in the diesel exhaust-filled engine room of retired New York City Fireboat John J. Harvey
, where temperatures climb to 130 degrees. The 1931 vessel, dubbed “Ambassador of the Hudson
,” now operates as a living museum, offering free public trips around New York Harbor
and an annual whistle-stop tour up the Hudson River
, with DuLong at the engine-room controls.
On September 11, 2001, Fireboat John J. Harvey was called out of retirement to pump water at the World Trade Center site. The John J. Harvey’s civilian crew, including DuLong, pumped water alongside FDNY crews for four days. Later recognized in the Congressional Record for “ensuring constant smooth running of the engines” during her service in the days following the attacks, she was also immortalized as a character in Maira Kalman’s award-winning children’s book, FIREBOAT: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, and featured in Ben Gibberd’s New York Waters. DuLong’s boating and writing worlds first collided with the publication of her essay “Below Decks” in the anthology Steady As She Goes: Women’s Adventures At Sea (Seal Press, 2003)-a piece that was singled out in Publishers Weekly as “stylish” and a “high point” of the collection.