Books by Max Page

Released: Dec. 15, 1999

A sober, humane explanation of how and why New York City became a place of continuous rebuilding. Neither lamenting the end of Old New York or positing one big bad root cause, historian Page (History/Georgia State Univ., Yale) instead explores "the cultural meanings attached to the fundamental process of urbanization" that he calls "creative destruction"—a process that established itself during the first third of the century. In character- and narrative-driven chapters, he highlights several elements of city planning'slum clearance, tree planting and removal, and historical preservation—and illustrates how they were tools for the powerful to define the city. Real estate developers were central in developing Fifth Avenue as the valuable "spine of Gotham"; reformers like Jacob Riis fought for the wholesale removal of the "leprous" slums of the Lower East Side; the elites battled to preserve the structures they felt defined the true city amidst unprecedented change. Page reiterates throughout that even when government officials and social reformers clashed, they shared the same goal: "To protect and perpetuate the best buildings and architectural values of the past." Concluding the survey are two chapters on how collective memory is attempted in art. Among the varied views are collector I.N. Phelps Stokes's massive but lifeless set of illustrations, The Iconography of Manhattan Island; Virginia Lee Burton's 1942 paean to threatened pastoral life, The Little House; and photography of the early 20th century (by Strand, Abbott, and others), which redefined New York in terms of movement rather than permanence. Readers wondering how the city can be captured in a single Stieglitz photo or why East Side tenement demolition faced widespread criticism will find answers as part of the larger truth of how capitalism, culture, and art shape collective memory. For real or armchair New Yorkers, the whole package is a treat. (Over 70 b&w photographs and illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >