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All About Gotham

June 2024
1min read

The Encyclopedia of New York City

edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, Yale University Press, 1,350 pages.

“New York is the only real city-city,” wrote Truman Capote, who occupies a seventeen-line biography on page 179 of this 1,350-page book. It also is the only American city that belongs to the whole country; if there were no New York, we would be a nation of hicks. But there is a New York, and even if you think you hate it, you’re better off for having it as your near or distant neighbor. From Dutch times, New York has been known for buckshotting visitors and residents alike with an endless variety of vivid, disconnected experiences, so the arbitrariness of an alphabetical approach to the city’s history is fitting—and, indeed, satisfying. Turn one corner, and there are morgues (the first began operating on June 21, 1866) and Morgan Stanley; jump uptown 300 pages, and you’re keeping company with a handsome Brandywine Bowl made by Gerrit Onckelbag about 1710 (under “silver”) and Paul Simon, who not only graduated from Queens College and put in a brief appearance at Brooklyn Law School, but composed “The 59th Street Bridge Song"—from which bridge, F. Scott Fitzgerald (page 414) wrote, New York is always “seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.” This spirited and fascinating compendium, handsomely illustrated and heavy as a piano, serves as ratification of another Fitzgerald thought, spoken through Tom Buchanan: “Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry. I’d be a God Damn fool to live anywhere else.”

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