This book is exactly what the title says. For the first two-thirds at least. I enjoyed the way Mr. Berry guided readers through the early history of New Orleans from the French, to the Spanish, to the Americans. It wasn’t an exhausting or tedious read in these chapters in fact I was fascinated by all the subtopics that he incorporated into the timeline. Helping to keep readers anchored in the connections between the various eras of the Crescent City, he highlights specific individuals and how they were affected during different eras. The last third of the book takes a sudden shift. Instead of looking broadly at the city, the focus shifts to biographical chapters on jazz musicians. Yes, jazz is an integral part of the city’s history. But instead of keeping the telescoped view of the city’s history, we’re suddenly zoomed in on only the development of a few jazz musicians. The book is already long, and to leave the reader on just these biographical chapters felt like a let down for me.
There was a very frank integration of the slave culture and its influence on the city as well as the acknowledgement and details of the free people of color and their role in New Orleans’ society. These details were new to me and at the same time refreshing. I think it’s time that we strip away the white washing of Southern history and have a real look at how integral the slavery was (and is) a part of the South and it’s development.
There is a lot that has fascinated me about New Orleans. I can’t even tell you when it began. I think part of it is the very distinct European “otherness” of the city due to the fact it didn’t come into the U.S. until later. I don’t know. I also know I like some of the food and jazz so that adds to the it as well. I wouldn’t read this again, although I would reference it for specific moments of the city’s history. It’s a fascinating read if you don’t know much about the City of Jazz.