Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898To European Explorers, It Was Eden, A Paradise Of Waist High Grasses, Towering Stands Of Walnut, Maple, Chestnut, And Oak, And Forests That Teemed With Bears, Wolves, Raccoons, Beavers, Otters, And Foxes Today, It Is The Site Of Broadway And Wall Street, The Empire State Building And The Statue Of Liberty, And The Home Of Millions Of People, Who Have Come From Every Corner Of The Nation And The GlobeIn Gotham, Edwin G Burrows And Mike Wallace Have Produced A Monumental Work Of History, One That Ranges From The Indian Tribes That Settled In And Around The Island Of Manna Hata, To The Consolidation Of The Five Boroughs Into Greater New York In It Is An Epic Narrative, A Story As Vast And As Varied As The City It Chronicles, And It Underscores That The History Of New York Is The Story Of Our Nation Readers Will Relive The Tumultuous Early Years Of New Amsterdam Under The Dutch West India Company, Peter Stuyvesant S Despotic Regime, Indian Wars, Slave Resistance And Revolt, The Revolutionary War And The Defeat Of Washington S Army On Brooklyn Heights, The Destructive Seven Years Of British Occupation, New York As The Nation S First Capital, The Duel Between Aaron Burr And Alexander Hamilton, The Erie Canal And The Coming Of The Railroads, The Growth Of The City As A Port And Financial Center, The Infamous Draft Riots Of The Civil War, The Great Flood Of Immigrants, The Rise Of Mass Entertainment Such As Vaudeville And Coney Island, The Building Of The Brooklyn Bridge And The Birth Of The Skyscraper Here Too Is A Cast Of Thousands The Rebel Jacob Leisler And The Reformer Joanna Bethune Clement Moore, Who Saved Greenwich Village From The City S Street Grid Plan Herman Melville, Who Painted Disillusioned Portraits Of City Life And Walt Whitman, Who Happily Celebrated That Same Life We Meet The Rebel Jacob Leisler And The Reformer Joanna Bethune Boss Tweed And His Nemesis, Cartoonist Thomas Nast Emma Goldman And Nellie Bly Jacob Riis And Horace Greeley Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt Colonel Waring And His White Angels Who Revolutionized The Sanitation Department Millionaires John Jacob Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, August Belmont, And William Randolph Hearst And Hundreds Who Left Their Mark On This Great CityThe Events And People Who Crowd These Pages Guarantee That This Is No Mere Local History It Is In Fact A Portrait Of The Heart And Soul Of America, And A Book That Will Mesmerize Everyone Interested In The Peaks And Valleys Of American Life As Found In The Greatest City On Earth Gotham Is A Dazzling Read, A Fast Paced, Brilliant Narrative That Carries The Reader Along As It Threads Hundreds Of Stories Into One Great Blockbuster Of A Book This book is above all a great testament to the overall high level of current American historical writing and academic research While Burrows and Wallace have unquestionably written a great work of synthesis history, they obviously could not have achieved such an excellence if that there had not been an extraordinary collection of monographs to synthesize Hats off to Burrows, Wallace and the academics producing excellent studies on narrow topics.I devoted roughly one quarter of my undergraduate studies to American history placing slightly emphasis on the History of France and New France i.e Canada prior to the British conquest Thirty five years ago I had a good solid grounding in most areas of American history Gotham demonstrates that great advances have been made everywhere since The brilliant section on the New Netherland indicates great progress in the understanding of the societies and economies that preceded the American revolution The discussions on machine politics, municipal corruption, police forces, the management of relief services, education, water supplies, road construction, street car services, public lighting, and subways all show a sophisticated understanding of American society than existed when I was at university The bibliographies for each chapter make it abundantly clear that the authors of Gotham were able to draw on numerous recent monographs to tell their stories.The excellent quality of the source material should not be allowed to obscure that Wallace and Burrows perform brilliantly at what they supposed to do as synthesis historians which is to create a coherent overview and tell an engaging story I especially enjoyed the section in which they explained how the major New York retailers with the help of Washington Irving s fabrication of Santa Clause from the SinterKlaus of the Knickerbockers were able to convert Christmas from an obscure Catholic feast day to world wide retailing phenomenon However, this is just my favourite moment The colour and human interest is everywhere in this book.I urge everyone to read this great history of a great city. Time is not a carousel on which we might, next time round, snatch the brass ring by being better prepared. When I began this book, I thought that I would speed through it in a summer month of dedicated reading, while there was little else to distract me Yet after four weeks of slogging I had not even gotten a third of the way through Worse still, I never felt fully engaged every time I returned to the book it required an act of will the pace never picked up, the writing never become effortlessly pleasurable So I put it aside, to finish at the end of summer When that didn t work, I put it aside, to finish during Christmas break And when that didn t work, I bought the audiobook, to finish the remaining chapters on my runs Now, 261 days later, I can finally tick it off my list.Edwin G Burrows and Mike Wallace set an ambitious goal to write an authoritative, comprehensive, and accessible history of New York City In their words, they want to include sex and sewer systems, finance and architecture, immigration and politics, poetry and crime, and that list is only the beginning The amount of research required to assemble this vast and teetering edifice of knowledge is almost nauseating When you consider that this book, heavy enough to serve as a deadly weapon, is the condensed version of thousands of smaller books, dissertations, papers, and studies, you cannot help but feel admiration for the many hours of sweat and toil that went into this pharaonic task And in the end they have accomplished at least two of their three goals the book is authoritative and comprehensive But is it accessible This is where my criticism begins Burrows and Wallace attempt to gather together so many threads of research that the final tapestry is confused and chaotic In a single chapter they can pivot wildly from one topic to another, going from department stores to race riots to train lines, so that the reader has little to hold on to as they traverse this whirlwind of information The final product is an assemblage rather than a coherent story, an encyclopedia disguised as a narrative history Granted, encyclopedias are good and useful things but they seldom make for compelling reading What was lacking was a guiding organizational principle This could have taken the form of a thesis on, say, the way that the city developed or it could have been a literary device, such as arranging the information around certain historical figures.Lacking this, what we often get is a list which, as it happens, is the author s favorite rhetorical device To pick an entirely typical sentence, the authors inform us that, in 1828, the Common Council licensed nearly seven thousand people, including butchers, grocers, tavern keepers, cartmen, hackney coachmen, pawnbrokers, and market clerks, together with platoons of inspectors, weighers, measurers, and gaugers of lumber, lime, coal, and flour Now, lists can be wonderful to read if used sparingly and assembled with care just ask Rabelais But overused, they become tedious and exhausting This is indicative of what is a general fault of the book, the lack of authorial personality in its prose Perhaps this is because Burrows and Wallace edited and rewrote each other s chapters, creating a kind of anonymous hybrid author Now, this is not to say that the prose is bad to the contrary, I think that this book is consistently well written If the book is dry, it is not because of any lack of writerly skill, but because the prose limits itself to recounting fact rather than expressing opinion or thought Again, the book is an encyclopedia without the alphabetical order, and encyclopedias are not supposed to contain any speck of subjectivity Unfortunately, even the most masterly prose is dead on the page if there is no discernable person behind it.I am being rather critical of a book which, without a doubt, is a triumph of synthesis and scholarship If I am disappointed, it is because I felt that I could have retained much of the information in these pages had it been presented with coherence a larger perspective, a sense of overall order, an underpinning structure As it stands, I do not have that satisfying if, perhaps, untrustworthy feeling that an excellent history can provide that of seeing the past from a high perspective, as a grand and logical unfolding Though not exactly fair, I cannot help comparing Gotham unfavorably with another massive book about the history of the city, The Power Broker, which forever changed how I look at the city and, indeed, at the nature of power itself Yet after finishing this, I am not sure if my perspective on the city has been appreciably changed.But I should end on a positive note This is a well written, exhaustive, and thoroughly impressive history of the city And despite all my complaints and headaches, I liked it enough so that I will, someday, drag myself through its sequel. Gotham by Edwin G Burrows and Mike Wallace earns its name, not just because of its subject but because of its heft at than 1200 pages The coverage is exhausting, the reading of sources nuanced this is no straight trajectory to the top for America s best loved and most vilified city In a modification of the adage originally attributed to Balzac, perhaps beneath every astonishing city is a crime, and New York was no stranger to its country s original sin The useful myth that Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for 24 worth of beads is laid to rest, with its self congratulatory subtext Oh, those prescient Dutch Oh, those naive Native Americans In fact the place was purchased with the torture and extermination of the native Lenapes Yes, Dutch people died as well, but the ratio of dead natives to dead Europeans was very high, and names like Vanderbilt and Van Cortlandt live on while the anonymous Lenapes were extinguished I should say that the city s wealth rests on both of the nation s original sins, because slavery existed there, a slave rebellion the evidence for the existence of which Wallace finds less than convincing ended in brutal executions, the city had close economic relations with the South and was not entirely committed to the Union, and of course the draft riots turned into a racist massacre that ranks with the worst Not that Gotham is strictly revisionist history the growth and sometimes decline of banks, Wall Street, railroad companies, great stores and mansions all appear, but so do the Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews and Chinese, women s causes and the labor movement Although Tweed and Teddy Roosevelt have their parts in the eternal struggle between machine and reform without the usual reverence for the latter , this is in large part economic and social history rather than political This is a New York that is less a succession of struggles between great men than a panoramic view of as many of the people who lived in, built and entertained the city Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton, J P Morgan, Horace Greeley and Walt Whitman all get their moment, but so do Fanny Wright an early feminist , Father Aaron McGlynn the Priest of the People , Emma Goldman, the Plug Uglies gang of Five Points, problems of sewage, overcrowding and water supply Such a comprehensive review inevitably leads to a feeling that some communities African Americans, immigrants, the vanished Lenape are underrepresented But this is a story too often told exclusively in terms of the scarcity of real estate, the manipulation of wealth and the celebration of status Gotham is much comprehensive than that, which is an accomplishment and not just in terms of weight. Summarizing this book is a bit like summarizing the Bible the outline of both is easy to make out but what makes them memorable are the details Gotham is monumental history, in the sense of Mount Rush or the Holy Family Cathedral in Barcelona the work of decades, an emblem of an age Here we begin with Indian Manahatta, an earthly paradise for the Lenape Indians, a nomadic tribe that visited the Island to hunt and fish Then come the Dutch who found New Amsterdam Then the English partisans of James II, who christen it New York Although not the greatest city in the colonies that honor would probably go to Philadelphia or Boston , New York was destined for greatness by its location The monies made by Southern planters and Boston merchants flowed to the island, which was shortly and briefly the capital of an independent country after a long war also fought there Its greatest man, fittingly foreign born, Alexander Hamilton, gave up the capital in exchange for the creation of a national bank another instance of commerce taking first place in the city s priorities.Independent New York s history is one of colonizing first itself as Manhattan was built up from Wall Street up , then its surroundings Brooklyn starting from the heights, Queens, New Jersey and then finally swallowing up the other boroughs to make up a greater version of itself In the meantime, it became the terminus for the canals connecting with the North and Midwest, then for the railways that spanned the American continent, the biggest abattoir before Chicago came up, the center for the gold rush and the eventual starting point for the war with Spain and American global power Capital of the world, a new Rome.These are the highlights Then there are the set pieces Washington crossing the Delaware Burr killing Hamilton in Greenwich Village The mob taking over the city to protest conscription in the Civil War and massacring African Americans The Brooklyn Bridge being opened by PT Barnum, who marches a parade of 21 elephants across its expanse Thomas Alva Edison lighting up Wall Street Then there are the peoples and tribes The Dutch The English The French for a century after independence New York was closer to France than to England This was reversed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when the gilded age barons decided to ascend into plutocrat heaven by marrying their daughters off to the sons of English dukes and earls The Irish, the Italians and the Jews, whose histories are consubstantial with that of New York The Germans and the Chinese For a long time New York was the third largest German city in the world after Berlin and Vienna.There are great conflagrations, mainly between Protestants and Catholics and between bourgeois and workers There are massacres and pestilences and plagues There is greed and idealism There are market booms and terrible market crashes, some sounding as bad as the Great Depression Politics alternates between nativist WASPs, in cahoots with the rich, smarter, honest but nastier towards everyone who isn t a WASP, unwilling to invest large sums, and Tammany Hall ethnics, mainly Irish, corrupt but willing to provide investment and jobs for the boys, as well as charity targeted to their constituents The city oscillates between laissez faire alcoholic raunchiness and puritanical, prohibitionist control of people s lives, represented by bluenose supreme Anthony Comstock, a postal inspector who dedicated his life to the elimination of smut, who set up many of the mail regulations that were lates dismantled though litigation by Playboy and Mad Magazine Everything happened in New York Abolitionism Socialism Anarchism Liberalism Prohibitionism Large museums Concert halls Opera Black face and minstrels Vaudeville Large landscaped parks Skyscrapers The penny press The book industry and the rag trade The first millionaires and billionaires Mythical figures like John Jacob Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt JP Morgan John D Rockefeller Andrew Carnegie Joseph Pulitzer Horace Greeley PT Barnum New York swallowed and spit out Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe, whereas Walt Whitman, who was from Brooklyn did quite well for himself there.There are hundreds of characters Mainly villains like Jay Gould a rascal, but a likable one and Clubber Williams, a corrupt police inspector who retired a millionaire on a policeman s salary guess why he was nicknamed Clubber , or the famous abortionist madame Restell, who set up her mansion right by Saint Paddy s Cathedral There are also a few heroes Virtually everyone turned up in New York at some point Near the end of the book, there s Jos Mart , rolling cigars and planning revolution There s Giuseppe Garibaldi There s Chateaubriand and Napoleon III Talleyrand There are potted histories of canals, railways, the telephone, electricity, streetcars, whorehouses, insurance Law firms Much English slang in current use comes from old New York too.Everything began or came together in New York One can now understand why aliens always land in New York rather than Muncie, Indiana or Abilene, Texas They too know that nothing really happens unless it happens in New York.The book ends in 1898 as New York becomes greater New York and the US becomes an imperial power as it defeats Spain, aided by New York press baron William Randolph Hearst and New York pol tico Teddy Roosevelt whose term as a city police inspector there were four of them turns out to have been quite nasty In the future greatness beckons the Brooklyn Dodgers The NY Yankees Babe Ruth Fiorello La Guardia Robert Moses Broadway melodies The Empire State Building Al Smith The golden and silver ages of comics Madison Avenue advertising The UN.This is History with a capital age Gotham in scope, breadth and execution is in the same ballpark as Gibbon s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Mommsen s History of Rome Highly recommended. A truly monumental romp through the first 275 years of the world s most monumental city, although I m probably biased, since I was born in Brooklyn and now live in Manhattan I began reading this book several years ago, put it down for a while, and picked it up again a few months ago The narrative thread is enlightening, although the book can also be used as a reference volume with respect to certain events, epochs, and personalities And, oh, what personalities Outsized, egomaniacal, visionary, venal, public spirited, saintly, carnal, criminal, moral, grasping, moralistic, hypocritical, self dealing, self deluding, creative, etc etc As we like to say here in the Big Apple, if you re one in a million, that means that there are eight of you. This is THE definitive history of New York As with a few other rare books I put this in a category all it s own An enriching masterpiece for everyone who reads it. The better part of six months later I feel a little like I ve survived a siege, and a little less like having finished a book A 1236 page siege This was the first book I read primarily on my Kindle It was a significant reason for buying the Kindle If I had to haul the book around on airplanes I wouldn t have gotten done nearly as fast as I did Definitely a good investment.The history itself was comprehensive, repetitive, and altogether corrupt One political party to another Prosperity to depression Never ending squalid poverty and repugnant wealth Labor versus capital Immigrant versus nativists Tammany Hall versus reformists So many times it felt like the same story being told but with new characters and in new decades I will say this I ve made my peace with New York City As a graduate student in Syracuse, I d go down for work every few weeks, stay in Tribeca, and work in Brooklyn I hated it Loud Dirty Smelly Lonely Crowded The two times I ve been back in the past seven years made me realize my feelings haven t changed Yet, for as detailed as this account of the city s history is, it was pretty interesting I was in a hotel across the Hudson River just a week ago, staring at the skyline, and didn t feel disgust any It was like looking at a museum artifact curiosity, maybe Had this not been on my Pulitzer reading list I likely never would have read it Since it was, I gritted my teeth and went at it I m glad it s over and will bask in having survived. My son, Shannon, a resident of Chelsea gave me this book two years ago As a Southern Californian, I was not in a hurry to read a New York book I also put it off because of it s bulk 1236 pages When I finally got around to it, I found it absolutely riveting It is far than merely a history of New York It is a history of America from the perspective of New York, written with great humor Unfortunately it only takes us up to 1898, and it took the authors Edwin G Burrows and Mike Wallace 20 years to complete I only hope that the second volume is available soon I have been spoiled by vol 1 and want to continue the march into the New York City of the 21st Century This book ALMOST made me want to live in Manhattan so that I could visit locales and buildings while I was reading the book. Just flat out an outstanding history book Reading this book has been a labor of love that has taken a few years because there is so much information and analysis packed into it It may seem to cover a limited topic, New York City to 1898, but the authors cover a lot of topics in great depth and there are connections to broader trends in the US and the world I appreciated how much I learned about New York City the loco focos, the b hoys and so on I think what was most interesting was how much of the history parallels current events the debate over whether assistance should be provided or people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps the similarities between the Italian immigration of the late 19th early 20th Century and the current Hispanic immigration even Teddy Roosevelt s experience with zero tolerance policing and some of the surprising outcomes this book is really remarkable for the depth of the research by the authors and numerous connections that are made.

Gotham A History of New York City to 1898.

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  • Paperback
  • 1424 pages
  • Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
  • Edwin G. Burrows
  • English
  • 28 August 2017
  • 9780195140491

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