Four Streets and a Square: A History of Manhattan and the New York Idea

Marc Aronson. Candlewick, $29.99 (440p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5137-4

In this ambitious, richly visual “biography of an island and an idea,” Aronson (Poisoned Water) covers 400 years of Manhattan history, beginning with Munsee and Lenape agriculture and continuing through Civil War draft riots, AIDS activism, and Covid-19. Tracing the city’s initial evolution through five loci, he focuses on Wall Street, a center of displacement, revolution, and finance; Union Square, a new kind of city center; 42nd Street, which challenged artistic sensibilities; “transnational” West 4th Street, “capital of revolutionary thinking and living”; and 125th Street, center of the Harlem Renaissance and subsequent cultural movements. Details about the city’s subsequent fall and rise follow, not stinting on people and motivations rooted in prejudice, including a city-wide “racial purge” in 1863. An intersectionally inclusive, well-contextualized volume about a city that constantly “create[s] and re-creat[es] itself out of the clash and confluence of its self-renewing resource: its people.” Ample visuals include archival photos, historic maps, and newspaper illustrations; extensive back matter follows. Ages 10–up. (Nov.)