HARLEM by Jonathan Gill
Kirkus Star


The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America
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Holland Times arts critic Gill (American History and Literature/Manhattan School of Music) charts the astonishing transformations, upheavals, revolutions and continual renaissances that have affected the uptown terrain and population for hundreds of years.

In 1609, Henry Hudson glimpsed the Manhattan shoreline and exchanged fire with the local Indians, thus commencing the cultural clashes that continue in the present. The author traces the story of the area from its geological history to the current times of Al Sharpton (who fares poorly here). In the early chapters, Gill summarizes the stories of the Algonquin people and the original Dutch settlers, who laid out their New Haarlem in the mid 17th century. Then the British decided they owned the island, took over and fecklessly renamed New Haarlem “Lancaster,” a name that didn’t last long. The author follows the colonial history, the significance of the region in the American Revolution (Washington won a key victory at Harlem Heights) and the transformations wrought by the New York and Harlem Railroad and commerce (and greed). As Gill notes, Harlem was for many decades a center of recreation for downtowners, featuring plentiful forests and beautiful geological formations. Soon, it was human entertainment—music, drama, dancing, art and the allures of alcohol and assorted illicit behaviors—that became the principal attraction. Mansions rose, and the wealthy partied hard. Then Harlem began to attract a wide assortment of minorities—Latinos, African-Americans, Jews from Eastern Europe, Italians. By the early 19th century, more and more blacks were calling Harlem home, and as the economy cracked, racial fireworks commenced, raged throughout the Civil War and far beyond. As Gill writes, however, the area has long been home to an amazing assortment of talented individuals—politicians (Marcus Garvey), athletes (Lew Alcindor), writers (Langston Hughes), musicians and performers (Paul Robeson), intellectuals (W.E.B. Du Bois) criminals (Casper Holstein).

Comprehensive and compassionate—an essential text of American history and culture.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1910-0
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2010


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