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Downtown: My Manhattan Hardcover – December 1, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. New Yorkers love calamity," writes Hamill in this marvelous guide to the most expensive piece of real estate in the world. This is a look at the calamities—and the successes—that have struck downtown Manhattan since the time of the first explorers from the Old World. Hamill's Manhattan is filled with history, architecture and giant personalities. Readers will be thrust into the Civil War riots in Greenwich Village in 1863 and will rejoice in a Times Square filled with delirious New Yorkers on VJ Day in 1945. They will watch the city grow as the subway crawls northward and the big skyscrapers begin to pop up, from the Woolworth Building in 1913 to the World Trade Center in the 1970s. The city's rogues and heroes are portrayed in action—from Aaron Burr and John Jacob Astor to Stanford White, Walter Winchell and a visiting Oscar Wilde. This is a companion piece to Forever, Hamill's novel of New York, and The Drinking Life, which explored the city through the alcohol-fueled eyes of the young Hamill. It is written with insight, humor and, most of all, a deep love of the Big Apple. Perhaps Hamill's mother, Anne Devlin, best put it into perspective: "You've seen it before," she told young Peter the first time he was transfixed by the spires of Gotham. "It's Oz."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Hamill is an excellent novelist (see in particular Snow in August, 1997), but in his latest book, he wears his hat as one of the last of the old-time newspapermen whose life and work simply define New York City. He calls this book an "essay . . . based on memory, reporting, and reading." What that amounts to is a delightfully personal, robustly informative portrait of New York, Manhattan in particular (and Lower Manhattan more specifically).Having been in the newspaper biz for four decades, he knows how to keep his eyes and ears open for the good story, the telling detail, and the quirky but exemplary character. As he escorts readers around the island of Manhattan, he takes heavy glances back into history--insisting that New Yorkers constantly experience "aching nostalgia"--as he not so much classifies but revels in the distinctions of NYC both as a "concrete place and as an idea." A marvelous read for anyone who has a hometown. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (December 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316734519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316734516
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jana L.Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm a Manhattanite and can't think of another city where I'd rather live than this melting pot mix of a metropolis. To my mind, Pete Hamill is the quintessential New Yorker. A lifelong resident, former editor-in-chief of both the New York Post and New York Daily News, author of eight books, among them the best selling memoir, "A Drinking Life," and "The Subway Series Reader," Hamill knows more than most about the five boroughs, especially downtown Manhattan. He has certainly paid his dues, or rent, with 14 different residences during his lifetime. (unusual, as New Yorkers usually hold on to their apartments, forever). A cynical newspaperman, from the old school more than the new, Hamill was born in Brooklyn, the son of Irish immigrants. He is struck by those who, like his parents, fought for a brighter future while remembering what they left behind. "That rupture with the immediate past would mark all of them and did not go away as the young immigrants grew old. If anything, the nostalgias were often heightened by the coming of age. Some would wake up in the hot summer nights of New York and for a few moments think they were in Sicily or Mayo or Minsk. Some would think their mothers were at the fireplace in the next room, preparing food. The old food. The food of the Old Country." As a child, looking with wonder for the first time at the gilded spires of Manhattan, from the pedestrian ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, Hammil asked his mother in an awed voice, "What is it?" "Sure, you remember, Peter," she said. "You've seen it before." And then she smiled. "It's Oz."

Hamill's fast paced, fascinating narrative meanders with readers on a tour of lower Manhattan. His view of the city is a pedestrian's - which is the best view, if one doesn't need to be in the driver's seat.
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Format: Hardcover
. . . the greatest men and women. If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the whole word." Whitman's words from his Song of the Broad-Axe never left me as I read Pete Hamill's wonderful book of his city, actually my city, Downtown.

Downtown is part history, part-memoir. It is not a history of New York City as much as it is a history of Pete Hamill's New York City. It is at once a very personal piece of writing but in its own way Pete's story is one immediately familiar to any New Yorker. The streets we grew up on may be different but each of our individual and distinct stories must share more than a small amount of DNA with every other New Yorker for the last 300 years.

I've never met Pete (calling him Hamill just doesn't sound right) but I've known him all my life. Pete is the child of immigrants. His family was part of the great wave of immigration that took the wretched refuse of those teeming shores and carried them not-that-gently to New York since the days of the earliest Dutch settlers. From the famine and oppression of Ireland (Hamill) to the pogroms of Russia (my family) they came. They came from everywhere. Like thousands of other immigrants or children of immigrants, Hamill's family struggled but made a life for itself. My father found his way to one of New York's lower east side settlement houses and learned a trade (music) that served him and his family well his entire life. Like Hamill, I remember the trips as a kid from Brooklyn and, in my case, Queens, New York to that city of proud towers known as Manhattan.

"Downtown" is something of a walking guided tour. Hamill describes the building of lower Manhattan and its early history.
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Format: Paperback
Ex-newspaper editor of the New York Post and New York Daily News, Pete Hamill, was born in Brooklyn, moved around a bit, and returned to Manhattan where he lives and works. Having intimate knowledge of a city so revered, respected, and loved, but also scary and intimidating such as New York City, is surely grist for many a writer. Each time there are different aspects a writer will concentrate on, and many times one will not see what the other does, hence the many books on or about this awe-inspiring place. Mr. Hamill has a fluidity about his account which makes for easy, interesting, and page-turning reading about "his" downtown in Manhattan. It's a compelling read as Hamill tells the history of New York - easy to follow and it all fits into place - unlike other confusing "historical" accounts I've come across. From the late 1700s and through the 1800s and 1900s, so much exquisite change flourished in the then, and now, ever-growing city of New York. He not only covers the buildings and streets and avenues, but also the many peoples (the Dutch, the English, the Germans, Russians, Italians, Irish, and so many more) who so long ago had a huge hand in shaping the city.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pete Hamill's "Downtown: My Manhattan" is part of the latest spate of books that combine personal New York City experience and New York City history, as do Colson Whitehead's "The Colossus of New York" (in a way) and Phillip Lopate's "Waterfront". However, Hamill's is as different from those two other books as those two books are different from each other. I don't know what is causing these authors to write such material--maybe the nostalgia brought about by the horrors of 9/11--but I'm glad they did.

Nostalgia is the key word for Hamill's "Downtown". And it is not just the strong, personal nostalgia that Hamill luxuriates in: it's also the nostalgia that every true New Yorker feels for his City. Whether it was the Dutch or British who longed for their roots in the "Old World", as did the Irish, Eastern Europeans, Italians, Asians, Latinos, etc., or the people born here who cherish the memories of people and places now locked forever in the past, New York's ever-changing "scene" quickly compels our present into history. Hamill's sensitivity to this is brilliantly conveyed on every page.

However, "Downtown" is by no means a treacly, misty-eyed glimpse backward. It is a studied and educational examination of several of New York's neighborhoods--some well-known, some not. The pieces about the Bowling Green area and Times Square were the most fascinating.

What, to me, is special about this history is how it intertwines with other histories: with America's history, with Hamill's history, with my history, and, if you are a New Yorker, your history. I could not put down "Downtown"; in fact, I read it cover to cover in two sittings (I had to go to sleep) and then read it again. It's that amazing a book.
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