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Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan (Crown Journeys) Hardcover – February 24, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Unlike other great cities, as eminent essayist and New York devotee Lopate (Getting Personal) observes, "Manhattan is almost pathologically averse to letting you wander to the river's edge and get close enough to touch the water." In this loose circumnavigation, first up the West Side from the Battery to Washington Heights and then up the East Side from South Street Seaport to Highbridge Park, he takes the reader up close on an information-packed journey—dipping, as the particular location suggests, into memoir, history, current events, marine biology, city planning, literature, architecture, interviews, biography, films, ecology and more. Anyone who relishes the company of Whitman, Melville, both Cranes, even Sara Teasdale, among many other celebrants of the New York waterfront, will particularly enjoy the vicarious sojourn. The trek includes Chelsea Piers and the U.N., Gracie Mansion and the Brooklyn Bridge, Captain Kidd and the Gulf filling station on East 23rd Street. "Sewage and salsa," Lopate invokes in describing Riverbank State Park, and that mix of the problematic and the delightful pervades his account, "saturated with history," of the waterfront's metamorphosis from "a working port, to an abandoned, seedy no-man's-land, to a highly desirable zone of parks plus upscale retail/residential." This is a demanding book—formidable in some of its detail, complex in its broad approach. Tourists will find it enriching but only borderline useful. Its ideal reader, a New Yorker who cares as deeply as Lopate does about the waterfront as "the key to New York's destiny," will find it compelling as well as entertaining.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A native New Yorker, avid walker, and impeccable stylist, Lopate, whose last book, Getting Personal [BKL N 15 03], showcases his signature essays, now presents his breakout book, an illuminating exploration of Manhattan's strangely neglected waterfront. As ardent a researcher as he is an intrepid wanderer, Lopate seamlessly blends witty and candid accounts of his ramblings along the bedraggled edge of this great metropolis with the fruits of his deep reading to create a fascinating narrative that encompasses historical, literary, cultural, aesthetic, and environmental perspectives. By citing sources as diverse as Melville and On the Waterfront, Lopate celebrates the old "rough-and-ready" waterfront with its spiny perpendicular piers radiating out into the Hudson River like bones from a fish's spine and the "raffish" dockworkers from the days before containerized shipping put an end to Manhattan's maritime vitality. He reconnoiters the entire West Side waterfront from the Battery to Washington Heights, encountering both serene beauty and outright blight, while along the East River he sneaks into the deteriorating interior of the Brooklyn Bridge and ventures out to a deserted island. Dispensing a bounty of curious facts and acute observations, Lopate explicates the interconnectivity of nature and culture, politics and public works, and offers excellent suggestions for reviving Manhattan's moribund waterfront. Step one is to make people care, a feat this compelling travelogue performs to perfection. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Crown Journeys
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (February 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609605054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609605059
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a decidedly uneven book, and coming from such a talented writer it really seems a bit tossed off. There are the moments that make the book really worth reading, such as his elegiac descriptions of Manhattan's beauty, and notes on how our ruined industrial landscapes are so powerfully heartbreaking. Lovely. He is best at his descriptions of how the waterfront is tied deeply into the urbanity of all Manhattan. And while it's somewhat fruitless to wax nostalgic about the bustle of the port since it will never return to a working port city again, Lopate is wonderful on why it is powerfully tempting to do so.

The book has its uneven moments, as the discussion of Westway is so flat and tedious you are amazed that any editor would have left it in the book. And Lopate sometimes does seem a little obtuse in what he passes by - what kind of grump would call the aircraft carrier Intrepid "maritime junk"?

But he has accomplished a decidedly dubious achievement in writing perhaps the most self-absorbed, navel gazing recounting of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center that I've ever seen in print. In his brief three page discussion, he manages to use the words "I" "me" and "myself' exactly 102 times, quite an accomplishment. Incredibly he says that he walked in from Brooklyn to be closer to it but couldn't because of the ashes, and he was "envying everyone who had actually witnessed the buildings on fire and collapsing." Having been down there that morning I find this simply cretinous.
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Format: Hardcover
One of New York's premiere writers, Phillip Lopate, has written this wonderful book, WATERFRONT: A JOURNEY AROUND MANHATTAN, about his trek up the Hudson, through the harbor, and up the East River. This is not a long journey in length, but it evokes decades upon decades upon centuries of the history of New York.
What Lopate has evoked, at the same time, is an awareness that somewhere in our development, we have lost touch with the fact that Manhattan is an island, and that our formidable legacy was derived from the fact that, for centuries, we were a powerful port city. Goods and immigrants arrived to our shores by ship well into the 20th century. And then, for several reasons and not all of them good ones, we began to shun the river, the tidal strait (East River), and our harbor.
For the most part though, Lopate delights in seeing the city the way our forebears saw it. And then, sometimes, the effect is enormously sad: specifically, his journey to North Brother Island, the site where the General Slocum burned and partially sank, where so many bodies washed ashore as others died in the island's hospital. This section is eerily poignant and, to me, the best written. Lopate and his companions did not escape North Brother unscathed, physically and emotionally. And I doubt most readers will put down WATERFRONT without feeling unchanged. This is a wonderful book for New Yorkers and/or history fans.
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Format: Hardcover
Phillip LoPate's "Waterfront" is an elegantly structured, beautifully written book. The central narrative thread takes him around the perimeter of the island of Manhattan, and anyone who's even a little bit curious about ruins, industrial archaeology, and odd and forgotten spots will read about his adventures and travails with great pleasure.

LoPate is also well versed in urban design, architecture and New York's history and uses each neighborhood as a chance to discuss everything from the politics of urban renewal to Manhattan's history as a center of piracy.

In addition to the neighborhood-by-neighborhood travelogue, LoPate also includes several short "excursions" on other topics of related to New York's history and present, ranging from a discussion of shipworms to a revisionist look at the much-loathed Robert Moses.

Not only is LoPate's own writing wonderful, but he drops in lots of pointers to other works -- I'm really tempted to look for "Heartbeats in the Muck" (about the ecological revival of NY harbor) if only to have the title on my bookshelf.

Frankly, I picked this book up because I thought it would be a good before-bed book -- not too engaging, nice sleep aid. The joke was on me: I ended up staying up all night and reading the entire thing.
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Format: Paperback
I taught this book during the summer of 2005 as the anchor text of a content-based ESL curriculum at CUNY entitled "Stories of the City, Stories of the Sea" - it was sort of an examination of how water shapes New York Cit, literally and figuratively. First off, I should say that this is not an ideal ESL text - the narrative is too digressive, the sentences are too complex, and his style could never be translated into 5-paragraph-essay format (which, truth be told, is all most of the student want to learn in order to pass the CUNY entrance exams).

That said, it's a highly entertaining, well-researched work organized around Lopate's own walking journey around the periphery of Manhattan island. He fills tales of his own adventures with historical and literary anecdotes, giving the entire waterfront a mythic grandeur. I know much of the area he's transversed, but many of them felt new to me from his takes. Some, like his descriptions of the Fulton Fish Market, are sadly already history as the market was moved to the Bronx at the end of 2005 to make downtown area more tourist-friendly. (One of my students that summer, an Israeli named Kobi, spent the entire summer going to the market at night once he heard it was to be closed; he said it was one of the last great things about New York)

You can tell he's the brother of an NPR commentator (Leonard Lopate), but he has enough spunk and a few breaks from standard liberal party-line analysis to make for a dynamic read. For example, he has a chapter entitled "Robert Moses: A Revisionist Take" where he reassesses New Yorkers' and his own ingrained hostility toward the much-reviled Moses, shaped mostly by his attachment to Jane Jacobs' pedestrian utopian ideals and his reading of The Power Broker. It didn't change my mind about Moses, but it made for some interesting reading.
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