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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2002
Boston has a reputation for being something of a Puritanical stick-in-the-mud. It is surprising, then, that it has experimented so vigorously and persistently with its urban design. Some of those experiments - the Back Bay and the Emerald Necklace - we recognize as glittering successes, while others - the creation of Government Center and the Fitzgerald Expressway - are festering failures that the city is only beginning to address today. Of the numerous histories and narratives that this tremendously fertile subject has produced (many of which I've read), the most wide-ranging, elegantly written and well illustrated that I have found is Jane Holtz Kay's Lost Boston. It works equally well as a coffee table book and a curl-up-on-the-couch book.
The creation and evolution of Boston is arranged here chronologically, starting with the first settlements in 1630 and concluding with an epilogue on urban renewal and it's ramifications at the close of the 20th century. Even though it is an accurate history, it tells a great story without becoming dry or academic. The language is descriptive and accessible, introducing major players in the Boston scene, from Charles Bulfinch to James Michael Curley. You also get a wonderful feel not just for the power brokers, but the neighborhoods, people and places that made the city a vibrant place. There is a warmth to Kay's writing, without delving into sentimentality. Because the background history - the day-to-day development that made Boston the Hub of the Universe - is so readable, it helped me understand the context of major events in the city's history: filling of Back Bay, the Great Fire of November 1872 and the razing of the West End in the 1960's. Instead of examining these as isolated events, they are knit together to show the city as a living, evolving organism. It was fascinating to see how Boston reinvented itself after the Fire, to see the creation of Frederick Law Olmstead's Emerald Necklace, only to lose its way, lured by the siren song of renewal.
And throughout are some of the best photographs and period illustrations of old Boston you're likely to ever see. There are the bustling wharfs on Atlantic Avenue, the original Museum of Fine Arts (where the Hancock Tower now stands), and the graceful mansions of Roxbury. There are dozens of examples of the Boston Granite style that dominated the city's architecture before the Great Fire. For me, the most moving photographs were the ones of Adams and Scollay Square and the West End, all of which fell victim to the wrecking ball to make way for Government Center and urban renewal. They themselves serve as simple, eloquent statements for common sense and reason when it comes to grand urban experiments.
And yet, it's an unfinished history. The Big Dig - the largest public works project in American history - is nearing completion, which will bring down the despised Fitzgerald Expressway. The land cleared for that highway will yet again be developed into inhabitable space and add another major chapter in the history of the city's evolution. So as history loops back on itself in Boston, it does so in new and unforeseen ways. In that, Lost Boston serves us well as a history and a speculation on the future of the city.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2000
What a handsome book this is! I can't decide whether I liked the photos more or the text. The history is elegantly written and fascinating. How many people realize that Boston was literally created from the marshlands, spoonful by spoonful. The cast of characters who lived in this so-called Athens of America had an equally splendid selection of architects and places to live. The photos are a real treasure. I keep turning back to so many. The first edition was a classic, my mother told me. And this updated one has not only the older traditional rownhouses and state house and the pictures of the monumental construction of such attractions as the PUblic Garden and Common but a new cast. There are images of neon lights and amusement parks and the author (whose last book Asphalt Nation was a stunner with a polemic cast) has added photos of saved and threatened buildings to tell the 2lst century story. I couldn't recommend this more.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2001
What a treat to have this updated version of the author's classic history of Boston. The photos still resonate with the sadness of their loss and the beauty of their existence. But this isn't just a coffee table book. It remains the best history of this fascinating old, and new, city. I especially liked the supplement telling what had been saved, what was threatened and what was lost. I bought the first version 20 years ago and have bought the second to give to the next generation in my household to say how cities grow and should grow. A splendid book!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 11, 2003
A 1999 revised edition of the 1980 classic by one-time Boston Globe and current Nation architectural critic Jane Kay, this beautiful book is filled with images of buildings and squares tragically allowed to fall into disrepair, destroyed by fire or bulldozed for parking lots and malls. Pictures, maps and photographs are black & white, and are interspersed throughout the book, organized into subjects such as signs, spires, schools, etc. The text is arranged chronologically, and is generally well-written and highly accessible. The author delves into the history, policies and people of various times from 1630 to the present day.
Many of the buildings and areas depicted are truly beautiful, some destroyed as recently as the 1970s, when you'd think people would have known better. Scenes after the fire of November 1872 make you want to cry. I have a fair number of pictorial histories of The Hub, and still found some pictures in here that I hadn't seen elsewhere, and the author's perspective is worthwhile reading.
The book is constructed of high quality paper and concludes with picture credits, a selected bibliography and a good index. It should be of interest to those with some connection to Boston, architecture or history, particularly of the 18th and 19th century.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2013
The photos in this lengthy tome were fascinating, but some were blobs and difficult to appreciate. Still, I was fascinated at the number of gorgeous buildings leveled in less preservation-minded times. It was a great glimpse of urban landscapes long gone at locales that I only know another way. Great coffee table book for Boston expats or even locals who want to share what is gone with their kids and grandkids.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2010
I bought Lost Boston for my son-in-law who lives there now and grew up within driving distance of Fenway Park many times per summer (Sox games, concerts, museums, whatever). He LOVES it. My daughter says he has spent a lot of time looking through it, has learned a few things and reviewed others; overall, she says, it was a great choice for a hard-to-buy-for guy: good balance of text to pictures, great photographs, beautiful layout, etc. Now I wish I'd spent more time looking it over before shipping it out to him. Highly recommend!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2014
Jane Holtz Kay was a tiger researcher and writer..and for anyone who knows anyhting about Old Boston, this is a MUST! Unfortunately, it's Amazon or bust for obtaining it as it's been out of print for decades. The same is true of "Asphalt Nation" Holtz Kay's second opus.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2011
Missing dust cover.Very informative book on Boston. So much history has been lost,missed opportunities for preservation. Destroyed never to be seen and appreciated,it is amazing what cities lose. They never learn from past mistakes. Happens again and again. Boston rebuilt after disasters and once again destroyed their past. This book brings in details of this misfortune.
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2012
While this book has great pictures and such, I didn't really find much use of it. I'm sure there's a synopsis about it online somewhere so I won't go there, but honestly, I would only recommend this book to people who are interested in this type of book.
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