Well, now I'm three weeks into the 2016-2017 school year, and I'm still on page 75. Back during our January snow days, I breezed through Part One of the book—"Lenape Country and New Amsterdam to 1664"—and I made notes and tagged pages and then I never got around to writing about them and my continuation of reading has just been held up ever since. I've been breezing through a lot of random books lately, though, and decided that now, with my newfound motivation to read and write, is the time to
New York City is one of my favorite topics to study. For one, its centuries of transformation are amplified, more magnificently illustrated, because of its small geographic size. Tracking development as it spreads—the buildings as they rise and fall—appears grand and drastic when the area feels so contained and so easy to observe. Secondly, and related to that point, I am a witness of the city's history. I walked its streets and inhabited its buildings for a decade. I know how the traffic flows and how cultures and communities occupy neighborhoods. Knowing what came before is what inspires history nerds like me to keep reading and keep searching for clues from another time.
"The city's well-merited reputation as a perpetual work-in-progress helps explain why Washington Irving's day New Yorkers were famous for being uninterested in their own past. 'New York is notoriously the largest and least loved of any of our great cities,' wrote Harper's Monthly in 1856. 'Why should it be loved as a city? It is never the same city for a dozen years together. A man born in New York forty years ago finds nothing, absolutely nothing, of the New York he knew.'"
Because there is so much historical fact in this book that is impossible to record and remember, I think I'll focus my reading and summarizing on the state of things at any given moment in the city's history. Who was in charge? How did people live? What were the talking points, the stressors, the norms? New York is a dynamic city that changes with its population; the people are key to understanding the city's history.