cover image Twenty Minutes in Manhattan

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan

Michael Sorkin. Reaktion Books, $27 (275pp) ISBN 978-1-86189-428-1

Architecture critic and CUNY professor Sorkin (Against the Wall: Israel's Barrier to Peace) sets out with the simple task of narrating the daily commute from his Greenwich Village apartment to his studio in Tribeca. The result, a book of essays that's both memoir and sociohistorical study, is anything but pedestrian. Sorkin covers a range of material, from the history of NYC tenement laws to the sociological ramifications of Disneyland to his own battle with an avaricious landlord. Taking the torch from late urban activist Jane Jacobs, Sorkin discusses the ideological function of the urban neighborhood and its citizens, particularly as an antidote to the commercializing, gentrifying, homoginizing effects of capitalism. Historical and architectural details are considered at length; the Washington Square arch, for example, was ""erected to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of George Washington's inaugural,"" but later used by Marcel Duchamp and John Sloan ""to declare the independence of the 'Republic of Greenwich Village.'"" Sorkin also profiles current residents like his elderly neighbor Jane, ""an active presence at the community garden"" who once ""propelled herself from her chair to thwart a mugging across the street."" Delightful and informative, this romp will please anyone with affection for the big city.