Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Downtown: My Manhattan" by Pete Hamill

A few years ago I blogged about catching a glimpse of the legendary reporter and novelist Pete Hamill on the streets of Manhattan. I mentioned that he had written a wonderful book about NYC several years before called Downtown: My Manhattan. I recently read it again and was reminded how good a book it is. I definitely suggest you pick it up.

This is a different kind of book. It's part memoir -- Hamill remembering certain parts of his life -- as well as a history of the parts of downtown Manhattan -- his memories as well as the history behind them. He writes about how the New York character was developed through the immigrants, small businesses, robber barons, and families that populated downtown in the 19th century and formed the city we know today. He writes about the good and bad, the wonderful stores and restaurants that used to exist there and that no longer do, about how areas like Tompkins Square park when from being a dump to a paradise, about how life in the city has improved in recent years but how certain aspects of our past have been lost forever. About a city that is always, always changing. 

Full disclosure: I'm a terrible nostalgia buff. I love reminiscing about what used to be, about what used to exist and does no longer, about people who affected our lives but have passed on, and about what kind of city NYC used to be and what it has evolved into. Hamill's gorgeous prose in Downtown brings the New York of the past to life and gives us the feeling of what it was a like a hundred-fifty years ago, fifty years ago, and today. It's a great book and, for the NYC buff out there, a must-read.    

You can also hear a 2004 interview about the book with Pete Hamill here

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