Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New York: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd

I have a weakness for Edward Rutherfurd's novels and so was very excited when I received a copy of his latest, New York: A Novel, for Christmas. I've had the good fortune to visit Manhattan several times over the past couple of years, and with each visit, my comfort level and interest in the city grows. With another Spring Break in the city looming at the end of March, I've been chugging through New York, memorizing the early maps so that I can recognize street names and geographical points, even though they may be garbed in 21st century trappings.

The book is moving at a slower pace than most of the other Rutherfurd's I've read, starting with New Amsterdam in 1664 and staying in time periods and with specific characters longer than usual. I like this. With some of the other books, I've felt frustrated that just as I was getting comfortable with a set of characters and interested in their story, he would abandon them to leap ahead and start telling me about their descendants.

I loved the first part, especially showing the contrast between the Dutch and English inhabitants, and their treatment of and interaction with the native Americans and slaves. I also loved reading about the geography of Manhattan and the East and Hudson rivers. With all the bridges and tunnels of today's city, it's easy to forget that before all those bridges and tunnels the fact that Manhattan is an island was a defining part of life there. It was so interesting to read about the currents, and the wildlife, and the bends in the river and the cliffs and the swamps and the hunting grounds and the trails.

I also really enjoyed the Revolutionary War section and the insights into why New York remained mostly a hotbed of Loyalists. Most RW literature focuses on the Patriots, and this was an interesting and different perspective, especially with the Masters family and their love/hate relationship with England.

I just finished up the section on Civil War last night and again I found refreshing the different perspective from the usual CW lit--this time mostly related to the Irish immigrants and the draft riots and Tammany Hall.

I'm really looking forward to reading about the New York of Edith Wharton days--pre-skyscraper, that is.

It's not the definitive book on the history of New York, but it's a good opening salvo for me. I'm thinking I might give Gotham a go later in the year, unless someone recommends a better definitive history of NY book.

Here is a National Geographic article and photo gallery on the Mannahatta Project, in which Eric Sanderson, an ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), superimposed maps from Manhattan since the time of Henry Hudson to develop computer-generated images of what the island looked like when Hudson discovered it.

Is this cool or what?


  1. Thanks for this post.I've never been to America and doubt if I ever will go but I am very interested in the civil war, so I think I will find this book very interesting. I love that CW documentary with Shelby Foote, we have it on DVD.Very sad though.

  2. The description on this book wouldn't even have to appeal to me--that cover would be enough to make me buy it!