PHILADELPHIA: A 300-Year History by Russell F. & Others--Eds. Weigley

PHILADELPHIA: A 300-Year History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An encyclopedic, 680-pp. history of Philadelphia, by various hands, that outlanders might also consult selectively. The text is divided into 16 chronological sections, each with some sort of thematic focus--""The Federal City, 1783-1800"" or ""Rally and Relapse, 1946-1968."" In each, too, the author takes some note of the changing cityscape, commerce and industry, the social structure, intellectual and aesthetic attainments, popular diversions, leading citizens, etc. Nonetheless, the sections range from a near-catalogue of things Philadelphian, in the mid-19th century, to a near-chronicle of municipal corruption, in the early 20th. Curiously or not, the single topic to which careful attention is consistently devoted is the place of blacks. The founding Quakers, we're reminded, trafficked in slaves; by no means were all their descendants staunch abolitionists (the few black Quakers were segregated at Meeting; blacks themselves ""provided the main strength of Philadelphia abolitionism""); and in the City of Brotherly Love as a whole (more than one author stresses in those terms), antislaveryism was regarded with fear and opprobrium. (Irish Catholics suffered still greater violence.) Other motifs are few and obvious: the transformation of Philadelphia from a commercial to a manufacturing center; the successive loss of economic, political, and cultural preeminence; the recent, media-hyped renewal. Moreover, only two sections--""The Age of Nicholas Biddle, 1825-1841,"" by Nicholas Wainwright, and ""The Iron Age, 1876-1905,"" by Nathaniel Burt and Wallace E. Davies--can be said to really characterize Philadelphia in a particular era. (In the second, felicitously, ""the gravy-colored solidity of the city was pierced by Eakins's scalpel and lit by the architectural fancy of Furness."") Though there's little vivid writing otherwise, there's also a welcome absence of stereotypes. This is the place to learn about Philadelphia medicine, not the Philadelphia Lawyer.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1982
ISBN: 0393016102
Publisher: Norton