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Scenes from the Life of a City - Corruption and Conscience in Old New York (Hardcover) Loot Price: R522
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Scenes from the Life of a City - Corruption and Conscience in Old New York (Hardcover): Eric Homberger

Scenes from the Life of a City - Corruption and Conscience in Old New York (Hardcover)

Eric Homberger

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Loot Price R522 Discovery Miles 5 220

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Four scholarly glimpses of 19th-century New York City, adding up to a dull but informative portrait of an urban community in search of its soul. Homberger (American Literature/Univ. of East Anglia) focuses on the ills that assailed New York City as a result of a population boom that quadrupled its population to nearly a million between 1830 and 1860. His first essay examines the "Virgilian mode of social investigation" conducted by 19th-century journalists, who portrayed the city as a Dantean underworld of hardened criminals, lost souls, and terrible torments. Reports by Jacob Riis and others prompted a public outcry against slums, with eerie echoes of the 1990s, including attempts to close down homeless shelters and relocate the poor. Simultaneously, the city went on a crusade against abortion - another campaign with ironic modern overtones. Homberger then turns to the sorry life of Richard Barrett Connolly, a.k.a. "Slippery Dick," an Irish immigrant who became treasurer of New York during Boss Tweed's heyday and absconded to Europe with several million dollars when Tammany Hall collapsed. Earlier portraits of Connolly present a self-serving lout, but Homberger (John Reed, not reviewed) depicts a good man ground down by the machinations of corruption. After these forays into crime and misery, the author lets in the sun with his final study, which recounts the construction of Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted led the charge, designing a retreat that offered the city just what it needed: bucolic vistas, paths for quiet strolls, ponds for ice-skating. Central Park was an instant success, a glorious creation that "truly represented the achievement of New York in this period" - from a modern perspective, the final irony in a book teeming with them. Less popular than H. Paul Jeffers's Commissioner Roosevelt (p. 905), which also limns the woes of old Manhattan: a painful reminder that New York was once a city on the rise. (Kirkus Reviews)
Glittering and glamorous, New York in the mid-nineteenth century was also plagued by political corruption, sanitation problems, and a growing gulf between rich and poor. In this book, Eric Homberger brilliantly evokes the life of a city through vivid portraits of New Yorkers struggling to reconstruct a sense of community amid the selfish materialism of their urban environment. Homberger focuses on four main characters who played important roles in various reform efforts of the period: Ann Lohman, known as "Madame Restell, the world-renowned medical expert," whose services as an abortionist were partly responsible for the creation of a harshly repressive public policy toward abortion that persisted for more than a century; "Slippery Dick" Connolly, comptroller of New York City, who escaped to Europe with millions of the city's dollars and betrayed his confederates in the Tweed Ring; Dr. Stephen Smith, a young surgeon at Bellevue Hospital, who was able to show that dozens of cases of typhus had originated in a single tenement on East 22nd Street; and Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect-in-chief of Central Park, who brought into reality a concept promoted by the aristocracy for the benefit of rich and poor alike. In the course of telling the stories of these New Yorkers, Homberger describes a host of other characters: cynical politicians employing the ever-effective language of racism, real estate speculators angrily contesting who was to reap the benefits of Central Park and who was to pay, well-meaning preachers, cunning lawyers, destitute immigrants, curious journalists, wealthy New Yorkers who anxiously feared the city's mobs, moral reformers, and many more. Wonderful reading, Homberger's book is also timely, for his account of the struggle to define and create a community within a diverse and contentious city evokes similar struggles taking place in cities today.


Imprint: Yale University Press
Country of origin: United States
Release date: 1995
First published: October 1994
Authors: Eric Homberger
Dimensions: 242 x 163 x 29mm (L x W x T)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
ISBN-13: 978-0-300-06041-6
Categories: Books > Humanities > History
Books > Humanities > History > American history
Books > Humanities > History > History of specific subjects
Books > Humanities > History > American history > 1800 to 1900
Books > Humanities > History > History of specific subjects > Social & cultural history
Books > History > American history
Books > History > American history > 1800 to 1900
Books > History > History of specific subjects
Books > History > History of specific subjects > Social & cultural history
LSN: 0-300-06041-6
Barcode: 9780300060416

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