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Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (The History of NYC Series) 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 128 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195116342
ISBN-10: 0195116348
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Like the city it celebrates, Gotham is massive and endlessly fascinating. This narrative of well over 1,000 pages, written after more than two decades of collaborative research by history professors Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, copiously chronicles New York City from the primeval days of the Lenape Indians to the era when, with Teddy Roosevelt as police commissioner, the great American city became regarded as "Capital of the World." The sheer bulk of the book may be off- putting, but the reader can use a typically New York approach: Those who don't settle in for the entire history can easily "commute" in and out to read individual chapters, which stand alone nicely and cover the major themes of particular eras very well.

While Gotham is fact-laden (with a critical apparatus that includes a bibliography and two indices--one for names, another for subjects), the prose admirably achieves both clarity and style. "What is our take, our angle, our schtick?" ask the authors, setting a distinctly New York tone in their introduction. No matter what it's called, their method of weaving together countless stories works wonderfully. The startlingly detailed research and lively writing bring innumerable characters (from Peter Minuit to Boss Tweed) to life, and even those who think they know the history of New York City will no doubt find surprises on nearly every page. Gotham is a rarity, reigning as both authoritative history and page-turning story. --Robert McNamara

From Publishers Weekly

A tome matching the size of its subject, this doorstopper (the first of a two-volume history) more than justifies the 20 years Burrows and Wallace spent on itAnot to mention the space it will take on the nightstands of New Yorkers actual, former, future and presumptive. Its massive size permits the inclusion of details, minor characters and anecdotes of everyday life that vibrantly communicate the city's genesis and evolution. The authors have synthesized histories from various perspectivesAcultural, economic, political, etc.Ainto a novelistic narrative, providing the context for stories of the diverse denizens who shaped the city. Both New York academics (Brooklyn College and CUNY, respectively), Burrows and Wallace have produced a historical work that merits the term "definitive" yet still manages to entertain. Underneath reasoned academic prose lies a populist bent, unflinching in relating ugly events and describing the unsavory behavior of prominent figures; in its original sense, "Gotham" denotes a town of tricksters and fools, and this book is full of both. Vague documentation may, on occasion, frustrate the academic reader, but such quibbles should be left to professional historians. The rest will read with pleasure and await the companion volume's promised appearance in the year 2000. 160 photos and linecuts and 15 maps not seen by PW. 40,000 copy first printing.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: The History of NYC Series
  • Hardcover: 1416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 19, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195116348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195116342
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 2.6 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the definitive book on New York City history and is a remarkable accomplishment for it's authors. You'll find in Gotham not only a history of New York City (and an exhaustive one at that) but by default, a companion to the study of the foundations of this nation. Gotham is remarkably colorful in it's portrayal of the many characters that make up the history of this great city but doesn't skimp on poignant, and sometimes sobering, detail. An ambitious read, but worth every word. This is the kind of book that spawns the reading of ten more!
A sure cure for the unfortunate predisposition of the popular media to portray the history of New York as beginning with the first immigrant who set foot on Ellis Island (the book terminates prior to 1900). Read Gotham and become immersed in the richness of the mostly untold New York story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I see a 1,000+ page book on any subject, I really have to wonder if it will be worth the time I'd have to invest reading it. I am happy to say that Burrows and Wallace's GOTHAM was worth every second I spent poring through its pages. BOTH TIMES! GOTHAM is very compelling and very witty, and, at the same time, terrifying and troubling when you read about some of the atrocities committed on this tiny island. The treasure-trove of illustrations along the way only add to the enjoyment of the narrative. I can't recommend it highly enough. To me, however, the book is an important reminder that the history of New York City is richer, older, and more complex than the other US cities we tend to think of as historic, like Boston, Philadelphia, or DC. The history of New York City, laden with hope and tragedy, friction and cooperation, tolerance and intolerance, greed and charity, has never been given the majestic yet human voice it deserves, until now. GOTHAM lets you celebrate the history of New York as you learn about it. To me, that's worth every second of reading.
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Format: Hardcover
I have only read about a tenth of this mammoth work so far and I have found it to be one of the best written and most interesting books I've ever come across. As an Australian, I've always had a great fascination with New York (I've been there twice) - it's history, it's beautiful skyline and it's great contribution in so many areas like the arts & architecture (the Chrysler Building is one of the most gorgeous pieces of modern design in the world, in my opinion). So, to read such a marvellously written work on the city itself was a book I couldn't resist. Despite it's weight (it's quite a load to carry to work every day on the train) I LITERALLY can't put it down. Well done, Professors Burrows & Wallace - I can't wait for the next volume from 1898 onwards!
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Format: Paperback
Gotham is a significant achievement as a work of history. The beauty of this book is that, despite its length, it is engrossing and very readable all the way through. Indeed, the last 100 pages are as interesting if not more interesting than the first 100 pages. Rich with interesting anecdotes, and a cast of dozens of characters and true stories that are as colorful as the fiction in any Dickens novel, it is a rewarding read, albiet a somewhat challenging one if only because of its 1236 pages of text. Particularly interesting are the sections on the New Amsterdam period, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, including the Draft Riots, crime, the development of Wall Street and the Stock Exchange, Boss Tweed, the Brooklyn Bridge, transportation and the rail boom, electric lighting, the Astor Place riot, fire companies, immigration, the Astors, Teddy Roosevelt, Coney Island, the skyscraper and building booms,... and the list goes on and on. This is not just a history of New York, but also a history essential to understanding America's past. The book is an enriching read, and heartily recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Gotham is the deserved winner of the Pulitzer Prize. While it took me months to complete it--and I am a voracious reader--it was time well spent. Not only is the book immensely informative, it is utterly readable. I also found Gotham to be highly balanced, covering a wide range of topics. In no way did the book feel overly PC, dwelling on certain subjects at the expense of others. Yes, it covers (as it should), the slave conspiracy scare, Helen Jewett murder, abortion, environmentalism, Henry George, and the various labor movements, but Gotham gives equal room to Stuyvesant, Alexander Hamilton, Dewitt Clinton, Fernando Wood, Roosevelt, baseball, and Coney Island. Compare Gotham to a pick-and-choose textbook, or slanted politicized history like Howard Zinn or Patriots History of America, it's no contest.
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Format: Paperback
This is the best work of popular history I've ever read. I've just finished it, and will surely read it again soon. The narrative is basically driven by New York's boom-and-bust cycles, and the authors cover all aspects of social change these economic roller coasters wrought. The middle chapters on the Irish and German immigrants' struggles against exploitation and the corrupt machinations of Tammany Hall particularly stand out. Anecdotes are artfully woven throughout; this approach has actually made a narrative as compelling as any good work of fiction. (And the volume's ample weight gives one a physical workout should you cart it along to work every day, as I have).
Prof. Wallace is working alone on volume two, which covers the 20th century, and I can't wait.
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