cover image Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Edwin G. Burrows. Oxford University Press, $65 (1416pp) ISBN 978-0-19-511634-2

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 it--not 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 perspectives--cultural, economic, political, etc.--into 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. (Nov.)