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New York Sawed in Half: An Urban Historical (Urban Historicals) Hardcover – May 4, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Urban Historicals
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (May 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582340986
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582340982
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Bloomsbury launches its "Urban Historicals" series with a pair of books on both New York's most infamous cook and what (if true) would have been the city's greatest hoax. Bourdain, the chef and author of last year's cheeky Kitchen Confidential, attempts to retell the story of Mary Mallon from a cook's perspective. Early in the last century, the Irish immigrant Mallon became notorious as "Typhoid Mary" and was imprisoned by health authorities on an island in the East River after (unwittingly or not) spreading typhoid to 33 victims, with three confirmed deaths. Like Lizzie Borden, Mallon has received various writers' interpretations, the last in a 1996 biography by Judith Leavitt of the same title (LJ 5/15/96) that told the tale with more health science and a less cranky style. Bourdain chooses to light the story's shadows by relating to her as a once-proud, broken-down cook, interpreting Mallon's infecting spree with a kitchen-hardened aplomb and New York attitude. Chapter titles tend toward the snarky and hip ("There's Something About Mary," "Typhoid sucks"), and only a New York guy would describe bacteria settling into a gall bladder "like rent-controlled pensioners." Yet when, at the work's end, Bourdain makes a cook-to-cook offering at Mary's grave, it somehow feels more moving than stagey. Rose, a novelist and founder of the 1980s literary magazine Between C&D, has created "an entertainment, a reimagining of a piece of the past that may well have been imagined in the first place." His light-handed telling concerns a possible hoax from about 1824, when a butcher and a carpenter in New York's old Centre Market purportedly discussed their plan to solve overbuilt Manhattan's dangerous bottom-heaviness by sawing it in half, turning the top part of the island around, and reattaching it at the Battery. Word spread, and the enormous project seized the imaginations of Manhattan's poor, who showed up by the hundreds with saws and shovels, while merchants set aside enormous stores of food for the expected work crews. So, at least, claimed one of the hoaxers years later in a conversation with his amateur-historian nephew. Instead of being the "Crop Circles" phenomenon of its day, however, there seems no reason to believe the sawing scam was put over on anyone beyond the credulous nephew who first recorded it; Rose is quite aware of this and puts this re-embroidered lore into entertaining context, along the way creating a charming, atmospheric portrait of old New York. He also notes some classic period cons (the 161-year-old slave who nursed George Washington; the embalmed mermaid) perpetrated by the era's proven master humbuggers. Nathan Ward, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Early-nineteenth-century New York serves as the setting for New York Sawed in Half . Re-creating a legendary hoax, Rose traces the progression of a deliberately planted rumor. When two cronies--John DeVoe and a man known only as Lozier--are overheard discussing the possibility of the southern tip of Manhattan sinking into the harbor, madness and mayhem quickly ensue. Claiming that overdevelopment and overpopulation have jeopardized public safety, the two propose that Manhattan Island be sawed in half, a project that is embraced by a multitude of gullible dupes. This humorous treatment of a classic, long-forgotten fraud will appeal to popular culture buffs. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dan McKevitch on September 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book after seeing a glowing review in the New Yorker. It's the story of a hoax that took place in the early part of the nineteenth century. It's full of great information and wonderful anecdotes. The story itself is fantastic. That this could have ever happened is beyond belief. For people interested in something out of the ordinary, you won't be disappointed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kathy E. Gill on June 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book while in NYC because I was looking for a gift for a friend back in Seattle. The flyleaf got me hooked. The author spins a delightful tale that skillfully illuminates an era (almost 200 years ago) when hoaxes were regularly promoted in "the press" and which gives meaning to the admonition of "let the buyer beware!" The hoax which is at the heart of the book is placed in realistic historical context.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in historical NY as well as those of us who think we're not interested in history. A very good tale well told.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There have been some great hoaxes in the history of the United States, but this book describes one of the most bizarre. In the early years of the 1820's New York City was booming. Thousands of immigrants were arriving from Europe and they were moving into crowded and festering slums. Garbage was rarely collected and there were masses of people struggling to survive. The story is that among all this building, a rumor was started. Supposedly, all the added weight was going to cause part of the city to shrink into the water.

In response to this "crisis" a grandiose plan was developed. A giant crew of men would be assembled and they would saw the island in half, tow it out to sea, flip it over and then reattach it in a way that would repair the problem. Supposedly, a call went out to the mass of unemployed people and thousands responded. Men were tested to see how long they could make sawing motions under water and barracks were built to hold the masses of workers and their families.

Unfortunately, the story of a hoax is the true hoax. There is no historical record of this ever happening, it seems to have been one of those urban legends that seems to get started as a joke only to snowball into something much bigger. This book sets the historical context for the story and the presentation generally maintains that tone when the aspects of the hoax are presented. Even though I had never heard of the hoax, there were times when I thought that perhaps a couple of extremely talented con-men had pulled it off. At the end, the author admits that there was never any plan to saw New York in half and he describes some of the more elaborate hoaxes down through American history. As I closed the book, I found myself wondering if it would have been possible for someone with the flimflam skills of a P. T. Barnum to actually carry out such a charade.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
While I found some of the material in this book interesting, in the end, I was quite disappointed. The story is about a hoax that was purported to have occurred in the 1800's. In 150 pages of prose, the author describes the hoax and many anecdotes regarding the period. However, the final chapter lays out the case that the hoax probably never occurred in the first place - the hoax was a hoax. Since I probably would never have read the book knowing this, I felt I had wasted my time. On the positive side, the book was received as a gift, it's a short read, and I was able to learn a few things about the period. I would buy this book only if you have absolutely nothing else to read.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sam Houston on August 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A short, yet boring story. The facts are not all there. Poorly written, and just a waste of paper. Save your money and go to a couple of movies.

Mr. Rose needs to go to school on how to write, as his skills are very amateurish to say the least.
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