Dvořák In America

The great Czech composer arrived on these shores a century ago and wrote some of his most enduring masterpieces here. Perhaps more important, he understood better than any American of the day where our musical destiny lay.

I did not come to America to interpret Beethoven or Wagner for the public. That is not my work and I would not waste any time on it. I came to discover what young Americans had in them and to help them express it.”

Antonín Dvořák was very clear about his mission in the New World. He never wanted to be an ambassador representing the music of the Old World but rather a discoverer of what the New had to offer. Read more »

What We Lost In The Great War

Seventy-five years ago this spring a very different America waded into the seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century. World War I did more than kill millions of people; it destroyed the West’s faith in the very institutions that had made it the hope and envy of the world.

Many ingenious lovely things are gone That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude… —W. B. Yeats Read more »

“Dear Beatrice Fairfax…“

America’s first Miss Lonely hearts advised generations of anxious lovers in the newspaper column that started it all

Miss Beatrice Fairfax: Read more »

Welcome To America

A walk through the old Jewish Lower East Side of New York City recalls the era when that battered, close-packed quarter was a high-pressure machine for the manufacture of Americans

Walking Manhattan’s Lower East Side is like browsing through a family album of American Jewry. Irish, German, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, and, in the last forty years, increasingly large numbers of Spanish-speaking and Asian immigrants have shared this four-milesquare enclave, but it is not ethnic effrontery to call the old city quarter the Jewish Lower East Side; none of the other sometime residents have laid such a heavy sentimental the claim to the ground as have American Jews.Read more »

What Should We Teach Our Children About American History?

The fiercest struggle going on in education is about who owns the past. Militant multi-culturalists say that traditional history teaching has brushed out minority ethnic identities. Their opponents say that radical multiculturalism leads toward national fragmentation.

In 1987 a sweeping revision of the social studies program in New York State public schools gave the curriculum a strong multicultural slant. It was not strong enough, however, for a task force on minorities appointed by Thomas Sobol, the state education commissioner, in 1989.Read more »

The Diamond Jubilee Of Jazz

Seventy-five years ago this month, a not especially good band cut a record that transformed our culture

About 325,000 jazz performances have been recorded for commercial release in the twentieth century, according to the Institute for Jazz Studies, at Rutgers University. Plus thousands more have been taken from radio and concert events. Unknown billions of jazz records have been sold. But it was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) that made and sold the first jazz records seventy-five years ago this month (now reissued in a diamond-jubilee edition by RCA Bluebird). Read more »

Visions Of My Father

You can rise fast and far in America, but sometimes the cost of the journey is hard to tally

FOR A LONG TIME I HAVE WANTED TO write about a vision of my father I experienced on a New York City subway train riding downtown to a literary meeting. As a historian I am skeptical of visions. I pride myself on my rationality, I rely on facts. But as a novelist I believe in visions. Now I see a way to tell the story in the context of other visions of my father that have pursued me lifelong. Read more »

Williamsburg On The Subway

In the most self-consuming of cities, an impressive and little-known architectural legacy remains to show us how New Yorkers have lived and prospered since the days when the population stood at around one thousand

Famous for tearing down the old and for being oblivious of its past, New York City would hardly seem to be the kind of place in which to find a distinguished collection of fine old houses. Yet a surprising number do exist—sentinels from another era, survivors that stand quietly and incongruously in the midst of the city’s endless cycle of growth and obliteration.Read more »

The Man Who Invented Manhattan

Fewer than half of O. Henry’s short stories actually take place in New York, but we still see the city through his eyes

For most of this century, and often against the starkest evidence, New York City has persisted in seeing itself as “Baghdad on the Subway,” an Arabian Nights swirl of color, motion, tough characters with soft hearts, soft characters with sturdy hearts, tinsel, tears, and laughter. This is largely O. Henry’s doing.Read more »