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Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City Hardcover – May 1, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition edition (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810996332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810996335
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 2 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this brilliantly illustrated volume, Sanderson and Boyer recreate the ecology of Manhattan as it was that 1609 September afternoon when Henry Hudson first saw it, "prodigious in its abundance, resplendent in its diversity." The project began as a simple thought exercise, when senior Bronx Zoo ecologist Sanderson (Human Footprint: Challenges for Wilderness and Biodiversity) tried visualizing pre-colonial Manhattan, but was promoted to full-blown science project after Sanderson discovered an "extraordinary" 1776 British Headquarters Map detailing the island's natural terrain. Developing a "georeference" system to coordinate the old map, Sanderson "relates its depiction of the old hills and valleys to their modern addresses." From there, he reconstructs data missing from the historical record using standard scientific tools-examining pollen layers, tree rings, archeological information, etc. Sanderson's text integrates political and sociological history; examines the culture of the original inhabitants, the Lenape (their word Mannahatta means "Island of Many Hills"); and covers a wealth of ecological data; he even shares his vision for the ecologically sustainable city of 2409. This wise and beautiful book, sure to enthrall anyone interested in NYC history, boasts maps, charts, photos and artist renderings, thorough appendices (including Lenape place-names and Manhattan's flora and fauna), and an extensive section of "Notes, Sources, and Elaborations." 120 color illustrations.

About the Author

Eric W. Sanderson is the Associate Director for Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis in the Living Landscape Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo. He is an expert in the application of geographic principles and techniques to problems in wildlife, landscape, and ecological conservation. He lives in New York City. Markley Boyer has worked with the Wildlife Conservation Sociey creating maps and visualizations for a new series of National Parks in Gabon. He lives in Brooklyn.

Customer Reviews

My new favorite gift for friends and family...
Vivian R. Carter
The images in this book are very good and the information found in its covers is truly revealing and indepth.
Jonah N. Rothleder
Lots of great information for the American history buff that likes New York.
Jodi K. Jackson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 52 people found the following review helpful By S. Wilson on May 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Sprinkled throughout this book are 12 digitally-rendered aerial "photos" of New York in 1409, often featured as before-and-after comparisons of present-day Manhattan. These are beautiful and utterly fascinating images and are the heart of this volume and the program behind it (WCS's Mannahatta Project).

The book is also chock-full of historic and computer-rendered maps, wildlife and ecosystem photos and other illustrations. Sanderson's text is informative, entertaining and not preachy.

Through this excellent book, the reader not only learns about the natural history of NYC but sees it as a microcosm of the human impacts on landscapes across the continent and world.

The writing style and tone remind me of the excellent "World Without Us" but with the added bonus of being heavily illustrated.

I only wish that there were more of the large-format digital before-and-after Manhatta Project photos... a coffee table book would be justified!

Highest recommendation (and a must-own if you live in or love NYC).
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99 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Graves on April 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a heavy and substantial tome (inevitably printed in China - where else?) which details the author's amazing work in reconstructing the stunningly-beautiful natural environment of Manhattan Island in 1609, when the Dutch explorer Henry Hudson and his crew first laid eyes on it.

This much I already knew before purchasing the book, but frankly, I was disappointed when I actually got it. In part this is because the book seems to struggle to decide what it wants to be. A major portion does indeed deal with Manhattan Island in 1609. There are a number of amazing images put together with the latest computer-generated image technology after painstaking field research and with the 18th century British headquarters map. They depict a Manhattan so beautiful it brings tears to the eyes, particularly when you consider how totally the natural environment of the island has been destroyed. Still, I was left only half-satisfied, and would love to have seen something other than simulated aerial views, i.e. some neighborhood by neighborhood ground-level close-ups with descriptions (maybe they exist somewhere, but the link to the [...] website printed on the book's jacket didn't work; perhaps it's not up yet). But apart from reprints of historical paintings and drawings, there is less detail than I would have expected. Nor is there much discussion (apart from references to the laying-out of the grid street-plan and the grading involved) of the Manhattan archeological record, or of the massive and traumatic process of changing the primitive woodland paradise of 1609 into an unrecognizable agricultural and then urban environment.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on July 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Eric Sanderson is a landscape ecologist who after moving to New York City a decade ago became obsessed with the question of what NYC looked like on the eve of the arrival of European explorers (1609). Sanderson eventually saw a 1782/83 British military map that laid out the topography of the entirety of Manhattan in great detail at a time when the city was still confined to the southern tip of the island -- great detail, that is, except for the actual height of the many hills depicted (in the language of the Lenape Indians, the name was originally "Island of Many Hills"). Eventually, Sanderson was able to establish the original heights of the hills from a variety of sources, including early 19th century surveying records and modern investigation of surviving bedrock outcroppings. (Over the course of many decades, most of the hills of Manhattan had been lowered or completely leveled and low land filled in.) Using this data and the British military map and other maps and drawings, Sanderson constructed an intricate computer model of the island's 1609 topography, and mated this model with a wealth of information about ecosystems of coastal regions of the northeast US, yielding quite literally a detailed picture of 1609 Manhattan, a picture unveiled in numerous computer-generated images and maps reproduced in Sanderson's new book "Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City".It is almost as if we were looking at aerial photographs taken on the day that Henry Hudson first sailed up the river that later bore his name.Read more ›
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on September 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Mannahatta project is basically an extremely detailed computer simulation of what Manhattan might have looked at on the eve of European discovery. The graphics are particularly cool.

That said, I think the project is a lot more interesting than the book. The book is okay, just rather plodding. It seemed like the author really didn't have that much to say and padded the book out with some very generic, rather flowery prose. Here's an example:

"Yet it is exactly these processes of destruction that keep nature refreshed and alive. Take the death of one of those huge old-growth American chestnuts on Mannahatta, perhaps already 350 years old that night that a big wind knocks it down. The next morning, the gap in the forest canopy floods the ground with sunlight, and all those younger trees that have struggled in the shade through the decades are let loose to grow as fast as they can toward the light. In the course of the twenty years it will take the trees to fill the place of that mighty chestnut, the sun-drenched meadow will accommodate ephemeral flowers and insects that wait for just this chance to reproduce. The meadow is drenched with birdsong from nests that dot its fringes; white-tailed deer graze the lush secondary growth, where wolves come to hunt. Even the dead body of the chestnut, laid to rest in the undergrowth, becomes a habitat for mushrooms and insects, the perfect burrowing place for chipmunks and ground squirrels - until a weasel comes to ferret them out. At night a great horned owl silently falls on the timid deer mouse, and the frost descends beneath the starry sky to eclipse delicate flower buds where once the mighty chestnut grew.
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