Because many people dream of coming to New York, and because I’m never sorry to come back home: a list of favorite references on New York City’s history and sights.
For renewing your sense of wonder
HOROWITZ, Alexandra. On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation (also published as On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes). A psychology professor goes out wandering with experts in eleven different fields. Your own walks will never be the same.
History of New York
SHORTO, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. Extremely well-researched and well-written.
JACKSON, Kenneth T., ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. Extremely useful, copiously illustrated reference: the definitive guide to all things New York, from “A&P” through “lawn bowling” and “John Lennon” to “Louis Zukofsky”. I have the first edition; the second came out in 2010.
Outdoor Sculpture in New York
GAYLE, Margot, and Michele Cohen. The Art Commission and the Municipal Art Society Guide to Manhattan’s Outdoor Sculpture. The first book to cover outdoor sculpture in New York systematically and in the form of a useful guidebook. It’s useful for its geographical organization and scope, but the text is limited: in a page per item, the authors offer a B&W photo and cover the subject of the sculpture, who commissioned it, repairs to it, and biographical information on the sculptor. If you’re interested in abstract outdoor sculpture, which my Forgotten Delights site doesn’t cover (and NEVER WILL!!), this is still the best resource.
- Monuments of Manhattan (videoguide app)
- Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide
- Forgotten Delights: The Producers
GREENE, Liza M. New York for New Yorkers: A Historical Treasury and Guide to the Buildings and Monuments of Manhattan. 2nd ed. Tracks the history of architecture in New York City from its foundation in the early 17th century to the present, through a chronological survey of New York’s important monuments, buildings and sculptures. Over 600 small color photos with 2-3 sentences about each item.
REYNOLDS, Donald Martin. The Architecture of New York City: Histories and Views of Important Structures, Sites and Symbols. Includes 200 B&W photos covering the history of New York architecture for the past 500 years, as represented in 90 buildings, bridges and parks. More detailed but less comprehensive than Greene’s book on New York.
WHITE, Norval, and Elliott Willensky. The AIA Guide to New York City. From the American Institute of Architects: details on all major (and some minor) buildings in Manhattan and the boroughs, with comments on their importance as well as their decoration; illustrated with hundreds of small, B&W photos. If you have a habit (as I do) of wandering and wondering in NYC, this is a great reference.
Upward Glance New York Screensaver: the next best thing to being here!
With kids in New York
GINGOLD, Alfred, and H. Rogan. Cool Parents Guide to All of New York: Excursions and activities in and around our city that your children will love and you won’t think are too bad either. This guide lists all sorts of places you might not think of visiting, e.g., the original Pooh stuffed animals in a New York Public Library branch in midtown Manhattan, glass-making, the Staten Island Children’s Museum and R.H. Tugs. It’s nearly as useful for grown-ups as for children, with directions, contact information, and recommendations of nearby restaurants. Look for the latest edition, or be prepared to check that the attractions are still there. (Alas, the tic-tac-toe playing chicken listed in my earlier edition has flown off to that great coop in the sky.)
The Gay Nineties in New York
“The Sidewalks of New York” – Charles B. Lawlor, composer, and James W. Blake, lyricist, 1894.
Down in front of Casey’s old brown wooden stoop
On a summer’s evening we formed a merry group
Boys and girls together we would sing and waltz
While Jay played the organ on the sidewalks of New York
East Side, West Side, all around the town
The tots sang “ring-a-rosie,” “London Bridge is falling down”
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke
Tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York
That’s where Johnny Casey, little Jimmy Crowe
Jakey Krause, the baker, who always had the dough
Pretty Nellie Shannon with a dude as light as cork
She first picked up the waltz step on the sidewalks of New York
Things have changed since those times, some are up in “G”
Others they are wand’rers but they all feel just like me
They’d part with all they’ve got, could they once more walk
With their best girl and have a twirl on the sidewalks of New York.
Al Smith used “Sidewalks of New York” as his campaign song in 1928, so his memorial in New York City is backed by a relief based on the song.