cover image Strange and Obscure Stories of New York City: Little Known Tales about Gotham's People and Places

Strange and Obscure Stories of New York City: Little Known Tales about Gotham's People and Places

Tim Rowland. Skyhorse, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-51070-012-3

In his latest collection of historical essays, Rowland (Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War) aims to highlight an unfamiliar side of New York City, but he isn't quite up to the task. As he acknowledges in his preface, these 15 entries are more strange than obscure. Many of the chapters cover familiar ground—John Peter Zenger's fight against censorship, the city's pneumatic subway, Nelly Bly's undercover work to expose the horrific conditions at the city's asylums, and the tragic explosion of the steamship General Slocum—and don't add anything new. The book does include sections chronicling lesser-known events, such as the opening essay about daredevils who jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge shortly after its opening in 1883. The amusing food fight that broke out in 1903, on the last day the New York Stock Exchange and Produce Exchange shared space, enables Rowland to display a sense of humor, and he is also adept at summarizing much more serious events, such as the New York State Revolt of 1741. Overall, the book serves primarily as a teaser that will lead readers to seek out more thorough accounts, and its lack of novelty is not enhanced by lackluster prose. (Apr.)