Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Oxford University Press
35
Free sample

To 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 globe. In 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 1898. 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 more who left their mark on this great city. The 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.
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About the author

Edwin G. Burrows is Professor of History at Brooklyn College. Mike Wallace is Professor of History at John Jay College, City University of New York. Together they have collaborated for twenty years to produce this book, the first volume in the definitive history of New York City.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Nov 19, 1998
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Pages
1416
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ISBN
9780199741205
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Americas (North, Central, South, West Indies)
History / General
History / United States / General
History / United States / State & Local / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The very letters of the two words seem, as they are written, to redden with the blood-stains of unavenged crime. There is Murder in every syllable, and Want, Misery and Pestilence take startling form and crowd upon the imagination as the pen traces the words." So wrote a reporter about Five Points, the most infamous neighborhood in nineteenth-century America, the place where "slumming" was invented.

All but forgotten today, Five Points was once renowned the world over. Its handful of streets in lower Manhattan featured America's most wretched poverty, shared by Irish, Jewish, German, Italian, Chinese, and African Americans. It was the scene of more riots, scams, saloons, brothels, and drunkenness than any other neighborhood in the new world. Yet it was also a font of creative energy, crammed full of cheap theaters and dance halls, prizefighters and machine politicians, and meeting halls for the political clubs that would come to dominate not just the city but an entire era in American politics. From Jacob Riis to Abraham Lincoln, Davy Crockett to Charles Dickens, Five Points both horrified and inspired everyone who saw it. The story that Anbinder tells is the classic tale of America's immigrant past, as successive waves of new arrivals fought for survival in a land that was as exciting as it was dangerous, as riotous as it was culturally rich.

Tyler Anbinder offers the first-ever history of this now forgotten neighborhood, drawing on a wealth of research among letters and diaries, newspapers and bank records, police reports and archaeological digs. Beginning with the Irish potato-famine influx in the 1840s, and ending with the rise of Chinatown in the early twentieth century, he weaves unforgettable individual stories into a tapestry of tenements, work crews, leisure pursuits both licit and otherwise, and riots and political brawls that never seemed to let up.

Although the intimate stories that fill Anbinder's narrative are heart-wrenching, they are perhaps not so shocking as they first appear. Almost all of us trace our roots to once humble stock. Five Points is, in short, a microcosm of America.
When first opened to the public in 1853, New York's Crystal Palace created a sensation. Those who had seen London's Crystal Palace, the structure it was openly intended to emulate, argued that America's copy far surpassed it. Built in what is today Bryant Park, a four-acre site between 40th and 42nd Streets, the colossus of glass and steel indeed seemed poised to displace the British original in worldwide fame. Walt Whitman pronounced it "unsurpassed anywhere for beauty." Young Samuel Clemens--not yet Mark Twain--called it a "perfect fairy palace." Many perceived it as putting America, still in the thrall of European culture, on the map. "To us on this side of the water," wrote newspaperman Horace Greely, who had also visited London's Crystal Palace, "it was original." Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edwin G. Burrows offers the tale of what was proclaimed the country's "finest building." Centerpiece of the 1853 World's Fair, the New York Crystal Palace, like its London counterpart, was intended to display the country's latest technological achievements--as well as a few dubious cultural artifacts. But its primary function was simply to be seen and admired by the crowds that thronged to it; its very existence caused patriotic breasts to swell. And then suddenly it was gone. On October 5, 1858, merely five years after its construction, the Crystal Palace caught fire. Despite frantic attempts to save it, the magnificent dome was engulfed and within thirty minutes the entire structure reduced to a heap of smoldering debris, through which for days afterward bereft New Yorkers picked for mementos. With sumptuous images and lively storytelling The Finest Building in America brings back to life an extraordinary monument, one that briefly but wholeheartedly captured the imagination of a country, giving form to its dreams and ambitions, and then vanishing from view.
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