- Hardcover: 544 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First edition (June 3, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1476741247
- ISBN-13: 978-1476741246
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York Hardcover – June 3, 2014
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*Starred Review* Environmental historian Steinberg (American Green, 2006) takes us to the Island of Many Hills, a teeming paradise rich in springs, marshes, forests, and wildlife. Four hundred years later, Mannahatta, now the borough of Manhattan, is utterly transformed. Steinberg believes that we will be more prepared for the future by knowing about New York’s ecologically lush past and all the financial, social, and political imperatives behind the phenomenal engineering feats that eradicated it. The massive changes began with the Dutch, who zealously drained wetlands and decimated oyster reefs, followed by the English, who dumped filthy fill into the harbor to extend the land out to deep water where ships could dock. With eye-popping facts and wide-ranging commentary, Steinberg tracks the acceleration of drainage, deforestation, and land-making as well as the booming human population, the building of an ever-more elaborate infrastructure, and the monstrous production of waste. As skyscrapers rose, biodiversity plummeted. Here, too, are telling profiles of the men responsible for Greater New York’s metamorphosis, from John Randel Jr., creator of the city’s grid plan, to the infamous urban mastermind, Robert Moses. Assessment of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation caps Steinberg’s fascinating and cautionary unnatural history, a staggering epic of human will, might, and folly that affirms a crucial truth, “the control of nature is an illusion.” --Donna Seaman
"Steinberg accessibly traces the harbor’s natural history from the booming colonial market in underwater (literally) property and the prescient Manhattan grid plan, both of which fueled development, to the lessons delivered by Hurricane Sandy.... [Steinberg] challenges the conventional arguments that geography is destiny and that New York is an “infinite proposition” — a perpetually renewable resource. And he makes the strong case that for all the ecological advantages of urban living, hyperdensity by itself is not necessarily a sound environmental strategy" (The New York Times)
"How did the lush ecosystems of the lower Hudson Valley become one of the world’s premier urban centers, dedicated to the illusion that it could somehow transcend the constraints of the natural world? Ted Steinberg’s explanation in Gotham Unbound is erudite, wise, unfailingly readable—and alarming as hell. This is environmental history at its best, and a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered what lies ahead for New York City." (Edwin Burrows, coauthor of the Pulitzer Prize winning Gotham)
"Magnificently demonstrated in this unique, highly revealing history of Greater New York, prize-winning author Ted Steinberg is a pioneer in the field of ecological history. From Henry Hudson's magical discoveries in 1609 to Hurricane Sandy's rampant destruction, Steinberg narrates four centuries of never-ending landed fill-ins, destruction of estuaries, and building. Every page about this eastern landed frontier reveals the world's leading city from a fresh, crucially important perspective." (Walter LaFeber, winner of the Bancroft Prize and Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University, and author of The American Age)
"This is the best history of an American city I have read—stunningly original, brilliant in research and argument, delightful to read, and vital for our urban future. Whatever New Yorkers may have achieved in the accumulation of wealth or social wellbeing, they have written a tragic story in ecological terms. Henceforth we will not be able to think of the city without also thinking of it as one of the world’s most damaged estuaries and of the teeming diversity of plant and animal life that once lived here." (Donald Worster, winner of the Bancroft Prize, University of Kansas and Renmin University of China, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir)
"Gotham Unbound goes deeper than underground history; it is underwater history! Steinberg shows how the development of Manhattan's waterways and lands -- often out of sight -- shaped the creation of today's New York City. He reminds us that unnatural cities stubbornly remain part of the natural world -- and that world has a history. To really understand New York City, leave Wall Street behind, put on your hip-waders, and jump in the bog." (Louis Hyman, Cornell University)
"Steinberg brings to the center of New York's history what nowadays we mostly see only at its edges: the sea breezes and river currents, the creatures that swarm under and the ships that sail over the harbor's waters - waters on which the city's inhabitants have advanced with waste and fill for centuries. Even the trim outlines of Manhattan island represent the boundaries of aggressive settlement, as human New Yorkers, like successful Canutes, have pushed back the tides. Steinberg's story shows how literally the city is the product of ambition and invention, its very shorelines the result of commercial desires. Lively, deeply researched, and well told, a pleasure to read and cogitate upon." (Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis)
"Ted Steinberg has written a historical masterpiece-- a remarkably original and superbly crafted book about the relentless making and unmaking of the landscape of America’s greatest, most protean city. Gotham Unbound will enlighten anyone who cares about the past and future of New York." (Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation and editor, Dissent)
"The story of how the wild and woodsy Isle of Manhatta in 1609 became the hyperdense city of today. In the centuries-long war between New York and nature, nature lost virtually every battle—but then suddenly, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy exposed the dangers of denial. Ted Steinberg has written a magnificent book that transforms our understanding not just of New York City but of the future that faces all of us." (Jon Wiener, Univ. of Calif., Irvine)
"Gotham Unbound is much more than a brilliant book about a great city. I am awed by Ted Steinberg’s ability to make so sprawling a story into a powerful parable about the challenge – and the ultimate folly – of aspiring to limitless growth." (Adam Rome, author of The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation)
“Like each of his earlier books, Steinberg's Gotham Unbound is a revelation: in this case of the water world that New York once was and thanks to global warming may yet become again." (Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles)
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Any New Yorker can tell you how to get to Carnegie Hall (practice) but I’ve never met one who knew about the fresh water basin down where the federal court building is now, or how much of the island was boggy and swamp like. Or who, like me, thought Wall Street was the Southern fortification of the City (it wasn’t, it was the northern wall.) Or who knew of the vast abundance of both flora and fauna. Literally thousands of species. It was a garden of Eden. Or what made New York such a great harbor. One of three on the northern east coast, it was actually the best. Or related, about the underwater property rights. Did you know 12th Avenue was originally laid out with most all of its footprint in the Hudson? I did know however that part of New York, including 12th Avenue on the grid plan, was laid out by Goerick, but that is because my grandfather was born in the 19th century on Goerick Street, which was where the Manhattan Bridge now stands.
I could go on but frankly I have got to get back to this book. I’m only about page 100 and I can tell this is going to be one of my favorite reads of all time.