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The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island Hardcover – July 2, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Griswold's deft unpacking of the Sylvester Manor mystery reveals the uncomfortable, complicated history they left behind....[A] precise, beautiful book...Haunting.” ―The Boston Globe

“Extraordinary...This is an important book, for it is not just about a house. It is about the world and the destruction we have caused in it, all for the sake of making that place called home.” ―Jamaica Kincaid

“History buffs will love The Manor, and it tells a story that needs to be told....[The house is] a remarkable relic of American history.” ―The Washington Post

“Griswold skillfully weaves a historical tapestry of considerable complexity.” ―Women's Wear Daily

“A lively history of early American settlement...Like that Pulitzer Prize-winning work [The Hemingses of Monticello], The Manor is American history tightly compressed.” ―The Atlantic Wire

About the Author

Mac Griswold is a cultural landscape historian and the author of Washington's Gardens at Mount Vernon and The Golden Age of American Gardens. She has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Travel + Leisure. She lives in Sag Harbor, New York.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (July 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374266298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374266295
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I first became acquainted with the Sylvesters while researching my immigrant ancestor, John Booth, who was a business partner of Nathaniel Sylvester. I read anything that can give me a taste of what eastern Long Island was like in the seventeen century, and this book was everything I hoped it would be. Nathaniel did not leave a diary, but the author, Mac Griswold, using scientific observation, historical record, and family records, made the life and times of the Sylvesters come alive. I felt like this book was written with me in mind, giving me a portal to discover what life was like not only on Shelter Island, but also early colonial America. Of course, I was most interested in events that touch my ancestor, such as the purchase of the island from the native indians, a shipwreck carrying them toward their new home, their support and protection of Quakers, and my ancestor's signature on the inventory of Nathaniel's estate after his death.

I also gained a lot of insight into early Amsterdam, where Nathaniel grew up, and was moved by her description of early slave trading. She also was vivid in her descriptions of what daily life was like for a family living on their own plantation island with only slaves, Indians and occasional visitors, such as Mary Dyer and George Fox, the founder of the Quakers. I expect to read this book again and again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Manor is a powerful, evocative, poetic and beautifully crafted book. The contradictions and "subsurface" tragedy in the history of this northern island slave plantation go so deep -- and the human efforts (from today's vantage point) are so intentional, blind and immense -- that it's necessary to read The Manor slowly, valuing Griswold's impeccable work and doing one's best to absorb all the years and levels.

Griswold's own experiences while writing The Manor unfold throughout the book, augmenting the primary narrative and at times providing a temporary (welcome) haven for the reader. The beauty of this historic landscape itself, through the years and seasons, also offers solace.

Beyond the narrative itself, Griswold has captured the larger dichotomies brilliantly. So much of what is so seriously flawed in today's economic, political, and ecological human systems -- as well as the seeds of so much that is beautiful and good in American culture -- grew out of Early Modern European capitalism and the (Dutch) triangular trade. It's that portion of The Manor's legacy that all of us have inherited.

I'm sharing this book with friends (and maybe a friend's book group?) as essential reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book from Amazon and received it on July 2nd and did not put it down, unless I had to for other reasons. Spellbinding!

But I love history and had never studied New York before. A wonderful introduction. The author is an amazing researcher and writer. I even read "Sylvester Manor Time Line", her "Notes", studied "Bibliography" and "Acknowledgents" at the back of the book; my hesitation for the book to end.

The last three pages of the history; 317, 318 and 319; brought chills and tears to learn that the "Manor" is still being well taken care of. Nathaniel and Grizzell, wherever they are watching from, are sure to be very, very proud of their extended family.

This is a story written in narrative; conversations are not necessary. Good luck to Mac.
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Format: Paperback
It is understandable that relatives and residents are enthusiastic, but it is time we moved beyond those and took a more objective look at this book. In reading it I was reminded of that southern delicacy "pigs in a blanket," in which a sausage is encased in thick layers of dough. It seems that the author could not bear to discard any piece of information she discovered, so she found a way to insert it regardless of whether it relates to the subject. She somehow wangled funding for trips to places such as Amsterdam, Barbados, and West Africa, but finding fragments of continuity after 300 years is a dubious business. It serves little purpose for us to learn that the Barbados directory contains many listings that may or may not be related to the family she is researching. A certain amount of speculation is permissible when the documentary and archeological evidence is spotty, but this exceeds the limit. The problem is not, as some reviewers have said, that the book is too academic; the real problem is that it blurs the boundary between history and fiction. This tendency is worsened by the author's habit of injecting her own experiences and feelings into the narrative at every turn. Her strained efforts at poetic description and her incessant demonstrations of what an extraordinarily sensitive human being she is, especially on matters of race, become really annoying. In summary, like "pigs in a blanket," there is some meat at the core, if one makes his way through the filler, though even here it is surprising and disappointing that the author skims over the last few generations quite hastily.
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By BC on October 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nathaniel Sylvester is my ancestor. It was fascinating (and disturbing, re: the slavery issue) to have so much information on the family and the manor at Shelter Island. Ms. Griswold did an excellent job on her research and it is a book I plan to buy for my adult children.
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