“This is a book about New York.”
This is the book by Lucy Sante, and it’s both a lot of fun and at times, a lot of work. There’s obviously a ton of work put into it as well. If you’re interested by New York, and this means both culturally and physically, and if you’ve also happened to read books like The Power Broker, learning about some of the life and structures of New York City circa the late 1800s is really fascinating.
The book is structured into broad categories like “Sport” and “The Arm”, which are then broken into chapters. “Sport” is loosely termed and doesn’t get into say, the history of the Yankees, but into vice. “The Arm” goes into crime and punishment. The early chapters focus on things like how the streets are made, how things are laid out, and other more physical questions.
It’s not a people’s history, though there’s plenty of that, and it’s not an exhaustive history either. Instead, it’s a popular history pulling from tons of different sources, and providing both a broad history of the topic, while also getting into interesting (and sometimes funny) little digressive anecdotes. For example, there’s story here about Edgar Allan Poe being so annoyed and hateful about the noise wagons and carts and horses on the cobblestone roads, that he researched and presented a plan for wooden street material, which was treated with a hardening agent. It sounds ridiculous but there are places where they did this, and there’s still a street section in Philadelphia that still has this technology. That’s just one example among many here.