FIFTH AVENUE: A Very Social History by Kate Simon

FIFTH AVENUE: A Very Social History

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As New York grew, the rich and their retinue of clubs and hotels moved gradually up Fifth Avenue, and wherever the social spotlight settles for a decade or two, Kate Simon opens her bag of tales. Land holdings, lovers and balls, fluted columns, money woes, disgruntled workers and riots, primitive sanitation, the Great Fire, and the new penny papers: out of these and a thousand other matters the Washington Square of 1830-50 is made, and after it other favored stretches, the incidence of scandal rising as the century advances and new money pours in, ancestry and decorum recede in importance, and society goes flagrantly public. But the shifts of locale, the changes in manners and morals and the way money is spent, don't build up to a progression--partly because of constant flashbacks and asides, partly because the book's tone never alters. ""In spite of its political preoccupations, New York went on enjoying itself,"" we read apropos of the Civil War--this in the midst of a late chapter on Olmsted's Central Park, where those distracting entertainments are then detailed. Simon has no ordering principle other than the coincidence of time and place, no apparent priorities, no point of view--and, alas, the book lacks the very feature that would go farthest to redeem it, an index. A banquet of tidbits, then, for those who can't have enough of Old New York.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1978
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich