For Manhattanites, surely, and for anyone who’s visited and been either charmed or overwhelmed by the grid.

CITY ON A GRID

HOW NEW YORK BECAME NEW YORK

A popular historian examines the origin and development of Manhattan’s famous grid.

Given exclusive power and broad discretion, charged with uniting “regularity and order with public convenience,” the three-man state commission appointed in 1807 took four years to come up with the rectilinear grid—150 parallel streets, 12 parallel avenues, 2,000 almost identical blocks—that continues to order the daily life of Manhattan. Their design, likely cribbed from earlier maps and surveys, short on “beautifying embellishments,” and long on simplicity and efficiency, accomplished (along with the roughly contemporaneous construction of the Erie Canal) precisely the goal of town fathers: to turn New York into the nation’s leading city. Though he focuses on the commission and their design and the controversies and criticisms arising over the next 10 years as chief surveyor John Randel Jr. executed their vision, Koeppel (Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire, 2009, etc.) also tells a pre-grid, streets-and-roads story of Colonial-era Manhattan, bringing readers up through to the political rivalry of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, whose battles helped set the stage for the commission’s work. As he follows the relentless grid’s progress, from the edges of the settled old city all the way uptown, delightful detours pop up: about the anomaly that is Broadway, about the creation of Central Park (“the grid’s unimagined saving grace”), and about 20th-century proposals to fill in the East River or to add three levels to the too-few avenues to relieve congestion. Scattered throughout the narrative, well-chosen, lively comments from writers, poets, politicians, architects, and scholars either roast or toast the commission’s creation. Koeppel delivers all this with great verve and humor, leaving readers to decide whether the grid is the brilliantly democratic, effective plan its architects thought or the dull and ugly manifestation of unimaginative minds ruled by commerce.

For Manhattanites, surely, and for anyone who’s visited and been either charmed or overwhelmed by the grid.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-306-82284-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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