Downtown, by Pete Hamill (Dec 2004)

Pete Hamill’s Downtown is billed as something of a historical and personal portrait of New York City, though that’s almost unfair. The book is historical—rooted in history—but it’s much more than that.

Hamill boils it down in his first sentence: “This is a book about my home city.”*

Which, it is and it isn’t.

Downtown is well-written. Thoughtful. Insightful. Curious. Interested.

That it’s in any way a reflection of reality is a happy coincidence: Downtown would be just as interesting if it described a city that didn’t exist, or one that was destroyed centuries past.

(As it happens—you may have caught on to this fact—the book describes New York City. Past, current & future, and definitely extant. Anyone ordinarly held rapt in fascination by anything relating to the history of New York would obviously take issue with my saying the book would be just as interesting if New York didn’t exist; I hope you know what I mean.)

The history you’re exposed to is an interesting mix of the highly idiosyncratic and the broadly general. There’s the history of New York City—old, new, and ever-changing—but there’s also something more intangible. Which, as intangible things are wont to be, is difficult to describe. In between the people, buildings, dates, newspapers, trends, anecdotes, and geographies, Hamill brings in a broader perspective, simultaneously New York and Not. It’s this characteristic, mostly, that makes Downtown immensely readable, appealing not only to history buffs or devoted NY fans, but also to Ilda, Amos, and Malka (etc., etc., etc.) . In short: everyone.

It’s nostalgic but never saccharine, thoughtful but never stuffy or dry, and dark at times but never without hope.

So, if you get a chance, read it. I highly recommend Downtown.

Downtown: My Manhattan, by Pete Hamill
due to be released Dec 1, 2004 by Little, Brown

* Actual quote subject to change pending release of finished book, etc., blah blah.