Recommended by Pam Tice, BNHG planning committee member
Victory City: A History of New York and New Yorkers by JohnStrausbaughis a rich and readable New York City history of the World War II years, with nearly half of the book covering the pre-War years and the cast of characters who took the stage by the time of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Strausbaugh focuses on the people who made our history, from FDR and LaGuardia, to the role Vincent Astor played in developing spy networks, to the Manhattan Project, and the saboteurs who infiltrated the city regularly. He includes minor characters, from bobby-soxers and zoot-suiters, to gangsters and conscientious objectors, and just regular folks who stepped into famous photographs.
Activist New York: A History of People, Protest and Politics Steven H Jaffe traces the struggles for religious and press freedom in the Colonial and Revolutionary periods 1624-1783 on through Occupy Wall Street in 2011. The author Steven Jaffe is a curator of the Activism Exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. According to Eric Foner's forward, "Every generation of New Yorkers has witnessed the emergence of some kind of collective popular activism. Their movements have helped to make New York, and America, a freer, more equal society."
Recommended by Marjorie Cohen, BNHG planning committee member
New York Rising:An Illustrated History from the Durst Collectionby Thomas Mellins. Seymour Durst, son of the founder of one of New York City’s most prominent family-owned real estate firms, was a passionate collector of all things New York. Before his death in 1995, he amassed almost 35,000 pieces of New York history—books, prints, maps, photographs, and postcards. In New York Rising ten scholars chose items from the Durst collection and occasionally images from other sources to tell the story of New York’s development over the past 400 years. New York Rising is a companionable guide to how the city got from there to here, from the image of a 1628 print of Fort Amsterdam, with its tiny houses clustered just outside the fort, to the final image in the book, a contemporary photo of Times Square.
Waterfront Manhattan: From Henry Hudson to the High Line (2018) Dr. Kurt Schlichting tells the storied past of the Manhattan waterfront and the struggle between public and private control of the this most priceless asset. Jameson W. Doig, author of Empire on the Hudson, praised the book as succeeding "admirably in describing the evolution of Manhattan’s waterfront through the past several centuries--so far as I know there is no publishedwork of such scope and richness.”
Comic books once fed the imagination of young readers with ads featuring dozens of somewhat implausible yet obviously necessary toys, including “x-ray specs” and “secret decoder ring.” More recently, in The Central Park Cynthia Brenwall has provided fans of the park with our own x-ray specs and secret decoder ring. Brenwall, conservator and art historian, is part of a project at the New York Municipal Archives to conserve and restore the original plans and drawings for the park. A product of this research, her richly illustrated book covers more than sixty-five design projects in spatial and historical context. A walk through the park will never be the same. We’ll learn to see the familiar in a new way and understand the unfamiliar without wearing awkward glasses and a bulky ring.
Recommended by Jim Mackin, BNHG planning committee member Jim uses the New York Society Library for most of his eclectic range of books about New York City. For example:
Ned Harrigan from Corlear's Hook to Herald Square(1980) by Richard Moody is a biography of half the great vaudeville team of Harrigan and Hart, made more famous by the George M. Cohan song “H - A - double R I, G A N Spells Harrigan”. He lived on West 102nd Street and the bio covers quite a bit of early musical theater history.
Before Harlem: The Black Experience in New York City before World War I (2006) by Marcy S. Sachs. This book leads up to the Harlem Renaissance period with the history of where African-Americans lived in Manhattan at the turn of the last century. The Tenderloin district and San Juan Hill in the West 60s figure prominently, but most of the attention is given to the likes of Phillip Payton, J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson. This book is essential to understanding how Harlem came to be.
A good companion book to the above is Race and Real Estate: Conflict and Cooperation in Harlem, 1890-1920 (2015) by Kevin McGruder, which covers the intricacies of how African-Americans populated Harlem. The nasty side of the story is the higher rents extracted as a by-product of racism. Good street and building detail makes for an absorbing read and an urge to walk Harlem’s streets.