cover image City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300

City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300

Jason Berry. Univ. of North Carolina, $35 (424p) ISBN 978-1-4696-4714-2

Berry (Lead Us Not into Temptation) delivers an evocative, character-driven narrative history of New Orleans, highlighting its multiculturalism, love of spectacle, and resilience through fires, floods, and wars. In a detailed, novelistic style, Berry underscores the city’s influential inhabitants, including its “cunning” founder, Cmdr. Gen. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who was seasoned in diplomacy with a Native American culture that “negotiated power through ritual dancing”; missionary priest Antonio de Sedella, who also served as a secret agent for the Spanish Inquisition; Benjamin LaTrobe, the first professional architect and engineer in the U.S., who built New Orleans a steam-powered waterworks; furniture and coffin maker Pierre Casanave, a prominent member of free black society; and 1960s evangelist and artist Sister Gertrude Morgan. Emphasizing New Orleans’s complex culture, Berry covers the city’s early Jesuit influence; the sinuous ring dances enslaved people performed as a tribute to the dead; the emergence of voodoo in the late 1700s; the “ripening public square” with its military bands, Native American delegation parades, and masked balls during Carnival; the rise of jazz and its central figures; and the city’s gentrification and race relations since Hurricane Katrina. This is a multifaceted, detailed portrait of one of America’s most unusual and culturally rich cities. (Nov.)