View Full Version : Looking for a good read (NY History)

December 11th, 2004, 03:42 PM
I would like to read a few good books on the history of New York. I came upon a recommendation for "Highlights of Manhattan" by Will Irwin. Has anyone read this book? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

December 11th, 2004, 04:30 PM
I would like to read a few good books on the history of New York. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A couple --

Edwin Burrows & Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford University Press 1999)

Luc Sante, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Farrar Straus Giroux 1991)

December 12th, 2004, 02:10 AM
The Island at the Center of the World (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0385503490/qid=1102835106/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/102-2848327-6454557?v=glance&s=books&n=507846) by Russell Shorto

It's a fun & engaging read about the Dutch colonization of New York written in a relatively lighter style (not academic) and Shorto focuses on how the Dutch influenced contemporary New York. I read it straight through...

December 13th, 2004, 05:11 PM
Koolhaas's Delirious New Yorkis pretty good.

TLOZ Link5
December 13th, 2004, 07:47 PM
Koolhaas's Delirious New York is pretty good.

Truly the best. What a read.

December 15th, 2004, 06:10 PM
I've read both Gotham and The Island at the Center of the World.

Gotham is deserved of its Pulitzer, but The Island... is the more enjoyable read. The only history book I've ever read at the beach.

Historical snippets are presented with ease.

The original plan of the Dutch West India Company was to build the capital port of New Netherland in Delaware Bay, at the mouth of what they called the South River. The decision was based on the mistaken belief that the climate of southern New Jersey would be similar to Florida, and the harbor would not freeze in winter.

The first settlers to arrive there were dismayed to find no palm trees.

December 19th, 2004, 09:31 AM
I just purchased Gotham and Low Life. That will keep me occupied throughout the winter months. In the meantime, I'll look for the others titles. ................ Thanks!

December 19th, 2004, 10:42 AM
pete hamill's new book "downtown" is good too.

January 26th, 2005, 12:12 PM
January 23, 2005


All Around the Town


NEW YORK used to be notorious for never looking back. ''As usual in New York, everything is torn down / Before you have had time to care for it,'' the poet James Merrill wrote in 1962. But our cities have grown more self-conscious about their relationship to the past, and the field of urban studies has matured considerably; witness the appearance of such monumental efforts as Kenneth Jackson's ''Encyclopedia of New York City,'' Edwin Burroughs and Mike Wallace's ''Gotham'' and Ric Burns's television series ''New York.'' What began as the province of anecdotal amateurs has taken an increasingly professional turn; every publishing season now brings another crop of specialized studies zeroing in on different places, key events, heroes and knaves, infrastructures and minority experiences in the municipal archives. We may be so afraid of losing Noo Yawk's authentic flavor, as national franchises and sterile megamalls colonize old neighborhoods, that we have begun to cling with desperate nostalgia to the receding past. On the other hand, those of us who believe the city is still vibrantly reinventing itself will take comfort and find contemporary relevance in these earlier tales about the metropolis's growing pains.

Where better to start looking for the ghosts of New York than in its premier cemetery? In ''The Secret City: Woodlawn Cemetery and the Buried History of New York,'' Fred Goodman haunts the pastoral 400 acres in the Bronx in which 300,000 bodies are buried, including those of Herman Melville, Duke Ellington, Robert Moses and Joseph Pulitzer, alongside onetime celebrities slipping into oblivion, like the satirist Finley Peter Dunne or the former reform mayor John Purroy Mitchel. Goodman wittily calls the city's effort to honor Mitchel, who died after falling from an airplane during World War I, by naming an airfield after him, ''a tribute perhaps akin to dedicating a munitions factory to a shooting victim.'' If Woodlawn confirms that ''history has a short attention span,'' Goodman, the author of ''The Mansion on the Hill,'' does his best to convert the cemetery into his own public library, by imagining ''the rows and rows of stone as the basement stacks of some incredible archive.'' So elegantly are these urban biographical strands woven together that it seems a pity when Goodman tries his hand at historical fiction, in thinly imagined, contrived scenes between his deceased subjects that don't quite come off as short stories.

An element of fantasy or speculation must perforce enter into the retelling of Judge Joseph Crater's disappearance in 1930, since no one knows to this day what happened to the man. Richard J. Tofel, the assistant publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has some guesses, which he airs in his shrewd, terse, engrossing study, ''Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater, and the New York He Left Behind.'' Crater may have committed suicide to stave off the shame of investigation or have been murdered because of his involvement in a shady real estate deal or died in the arms of one of the famous madam Polly Adler's prostitutes. Tofel is less concerned with nailing down the fate of this judicial mediocrity than showing how the city's corrupt machine politics operated -- how liberal paragons like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert Wagner and Al Smith compromised with Tammany Hall's dictates for expediency's sake, just like the more dubious Mayor Jimmy Walker -- and how Crater's disappearance was a factor in Tammany's ultimate decline.

''Meet Me at the Theresa: The Story of Harlem's Most Famous Hotel'' brings alive the legendary establishment on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 125th Street, which played host to black celebrities of the sports and entertainment worlds, as well as gangsters, quack doctors, black nationalist orators and Communists (including, famously, Fidel Castro in 1960). Its heyday was in the 1940's when blacks, excluded from downtown hotels, came to prefer their own social headquarters. ''The Theresa bar was to blacks what 'Meet me under the clock at the Biltmore' was to whites,'' writes Sondra Kathryn Wilson, a senior associate at the W. E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University. Her irresistible account, filled with juicy quotations and delicious photographs, does not spare the gossip: we learn that the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson's gorgeous wife, Edna Mae, cheated on him with various women, and that the incomparable singer Dinah Washington gave wild parties in her penthouse suite and cut off one of her younger husband's clothes with a razor blade. At the same time, Wilson offers serious social history about a unique institution that flourished at a time when hotels had a crucial semipublic role to play in city life.

Another important, informal institution serving a minority, in this case, homosexuals, was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. David Carter's ''Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution'' meticulously reconstructs, through research and interviews, the events that helped bring a sea change in national attitudes. Though Carter, a filmmaker, editor and writer, is completely sympathetic to the rage of the gay men who rioted against what they perceived as a pattern of police harassment, he also complicates his narrative by pointing out that the cops were right, in a way, to try to close the Stonewall, a Mafia-run illegal bar pretending to be a private club, which watered its drinks, operated a ring that blackmailed Wall Street homosexuals and treated sanitary requirements cavalierly enough to cause hepatitis outbreaks.

''Subways: The Tracks That Built New York City'' is more a handy picture book and impulse gift for transit buffs than a study in depth. But Lorraine B. Diehl, the author of ''The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station,'' is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her subject, and the copious illustrations are a delight. Through this breezy historical overview, taking us back to the pre-subway days when the streets of New York were almost impassable -- clogged with horse-drawn carriages and manure -- through the heroic days of underground tunnel construction and the nickel fare, we come to see why, ''for countless New Yorkers, native or newly arrived, the subway was the great emancipator, part of the road map to self-discovery.''

The subway had an enormous role in opening the outer boroughs to urbanization, a point eloquently demonstrated in ''The Bronx.'' Evelyn Gonzalez, who teaches history at William Paterson University, gives us a soberly thoughtful, statistic-filled study of that neglected borough, replete with maps and charts. She effectively demonstrates that the very forces of upward mobility that led to the Bronx's phenomenal development also contributed to its decline. Sold as an extension of Manhattan, the Bronx ''had the highest population densities of any predominantly residential area in the United States'' and ''the most multifamily dwellings and the fewest owner-occupied homes of any city or county in America, except Manhattan.'' When the lower-middle-class strivers who populated the Bronx wanted something better for their families, they up and left, flocking to suburbs or co-op developments and abandoning the old neighborhoods to the poorest minorities. Gonzalez, putting aside academic caution, rises to warmly indignant tones in analyzing the market forces that propelled the blighting and redlining of once thriving districts. More remarkably, she shows how parts of the Bronx have since come back to life, thanks to more enlightened policies that privilege owner occupancy.

While none of these worthwhile books have quite the range or depth to become an urban classic, all help to fill in nicely the collective historical record of New York, and, in doing so, to indicate future paths that it must take if it is to retain its position as a leader among cities.

Phillip Lopate's most recent books include ''Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan'' and ''Rudy Burckhardt.'' He teaches English at Hofstra University.

Woodlawn Cemetery and the Buried History of New York.
By Fred Goodman.
Broadway, $26.

The Disappearance of Judge Crater, and the New York He Left Behind.
By Richard J. Tofel.
Ivan R. Dee, $24.95.

The Story of Harlem's Most Famous Hotel.
By Sondra Kathryn Wilson.
Atria, $27.50.

The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.
By David Carter.
St. Martin's, $24.95.

The Tracks that Built New York City.
By Lorraine B. Diehl.
Clarkson Potter, $18.

By Evelyn Gonzalez.
Columbia University, $29.50.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

February 2nd, 2005, 12:08 PM
Don't overlook Robert Caro's "The Power Broker",a definitive biography of Robert Moses.
It's a weighty book filled with great descriptions of the City during the 40-year span when Moses commanded the huge developments that have come to define today's infrastructure.
Things most City dwellers regard as part of the scenery--bridges(Triborough Complex,Throg's Neck,Verrazano,etc)parks(the Whole West Side),expressways(LIE,BQE,Deegan,all The Parkways),beaches(South Beach,the Long Island Park system,Flushing Meadows),airports,massive apartment projects all over town--were not there before Moses.
Things that WERE there before him,like entire neighborhoods of thousands of people,historic districts,parks and slums were simply penciled out of existence if Moses felt it was necessary.
The way he shaped The City was ruthless and on a grand scale,and he spent Triborough billions lavishly in an era when a billion was really a billion.
Some of his plans,like the dumb expressway through SOHO,never saw the light of day and he negatively altered the social and economic patterns in much of New York,but almost all Moses' projects bulled their way into the makeup of the City,opposition and social cost be damned.
Caro's book,which earned him a Pulitzer,is strong on graphic descriptions of the landscape of NYC,and utilizes a lot of fascinating flashbacks concerning NY history.It has pages of interesting photos of the City during that era.
It's a very worthy read for someone who wants to grasp a literary feel for the City's development under it's amazing Parks Commissioner.There will never be another like him,ever.