Before “Hamilton” hit Broadway, New York City might not have come to mind as a bastion of the American Revolution — a part of its past that has been largely hidden. These three books explore the city’s crucial role in the Revolution, as well as the overall history of the city itself.
THE BATTLE FOR NEW YORK
The City at the Heart of the American Revolution
By Barnet Schecter
454 pp. Walker & Company. (2002)
As its subtitle suggests, “The Battle For New York” presents New York City as a cornerstone of the Revolution. With footnotes and an appendix of self-guided tours, it is an ideal companion for modern travelers, merging the old city with the new, present metropolis. Schecter traces the defining events that occurred in New York City during the war, visualizing for the reader where battles were fought or where forts stood. Our reviewer wrote that “marching us through battle where today we bank and shop, learn and live, reinforces the lessons that our freedoms had to be earned, and were not guaranteed.”
A Story of American Freedom
By Russell Shorto
512 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. (2017)
This book is history told through biography; it follows six people through the American Revolution. At the center of Shorto’s narrative is George Washington, with whom most of the other subjects — except for an enslaved man named Venture Smith — interacted in some capacity. The others are Cornplanter, a Seneca warrior, Lord George Germain, a British aristocrat, Abraham Yates, a shoemaker turned politician, and Margaret Moncrieffe Coghlan, the teenage daughter of a British officer (and Aaron Burr’s love interest). The strength of this book, according to our reviewer, is that though Shorto writes of six people, “he does not roll them up into a single narrative or use their lives to bolster an overarching thesis.” Instead, he allows the stories themselves to demonstrate the scope and reach of the Revolution.
A History of New York City to 1898.
By Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace
1,383 pp. Oxford University Press. (1998)
For a more expansive history of the Big Apple, consider this classic, which goes back as far as the last ice age and brings readers up to 1898. It is filled with facts, like the origin of the Gotham nickname — it’s a village in England — or the price of Manhattan when it was sold to Dutch traders. More broadly, it’s a book concerned with the forces that shaped the city over the three centuries covered, with immigration as a persistent theme. Our reviewer in 1998 wrote that the evolution shown in the book proves that “life in the big city is often déjà vu all over again,” with issues such as income and housing inequality re-emerging over time. A sequel, “Greater Gotham,” was released this year.
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