Title: Downtown: My Manhattan
Author: Pete Hamill
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Hardcover: 289 pages
May 26, 2005
I grew up in New York reading newspaper
articles by Pete Hamill and always imagined him as a rather gruff and cynical newspaperman. In Downtown:
My Manhattan, Hamill reveals not only an incredible knowledge of the history of New York, but a tender and affectionate
heart towards this most incredible city. Hamill serves up personal stories along with the people and places that
once made up and, in many cases, still make up, downtown Manhattan.
He takes us on the journey that so many
immigrants took, leaving the Old Country and arriving, and often staying, in New York, that amazing melting pot of so many
different cultures and peoples. He reminds us of the gifts we now take for granted such as free schools and libraries
which were crucial in helping the children of poor immigrant families build new lives for themselves. We learn the history
of the Battery, how Wall Street got its name, the development of skyscrapers, and stories of the Bowery, Park Row and the
Rialto. Hamill takes us along with him to learn about the first newspapers and the men who ran them. He tells
us the stories of familiar names such as Peter Stuyvesant and John Jacob Astor, as well as less familiar names including Alexander
Stewart who wrought radical change to New York City. We are taken to Times Square and the impact of the subway
on transforming this intersection of roads into one of the most famous and influential pieces of real estate in the world.
He takes us back to the neighborhoods when the diverse immigrant groups were struggling to make their way in this new world.
We go to the villages, including Little Italy, Chinatown, and that most famous of villages, Greenwich Village. Hamill
also pays tribute to the World Trade Center and the horrific events of September 11th in a personal and moving reaction to
the terrors of that day.
Hamill discusses the fact that New
York City is always changing, sometimes for the better, but not always. Early on, he explains the difference between
sentimentality and nostalgia for things that no longer exist: Irreversible change happens so often in New York that
the experience affects character itself. New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion
of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns
Hamill is the kind of writer who makes
it look easy, who makes it sound like he is having a conversation with you about the most everyday of topics when he is actually
weaving complex and often obscure historical facts and characters into a most readable, fascinating history of downtown Manhattan.
While most of us have heard bits and pieces of this story, few have delved into the truth of it with the gusto and affection
of this author. This is a most enjoyable read and one that takes us on a nostalgic, but never sentimental, journey
into another time. This is one love letter meant to be shared and savored by us all.
Reviewed by Nancy Machlis Rechtman
Reserve your copy today!