FINE ARTS

A History of New York in 27 Buildings: The 400-Year Untold Story of an American Metropolis

Bloomsbury USA. Oct. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781620409800. pap. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781620409817. ARCH
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To commemorate the 400th anniversary of New York City, author and broadcaster Roberts (The Caucus) highlights structures he believes have been significant. The book isn’t really about design, but how occupants have used these buildings. A few, such as Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building, are iconic. Most, including St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway, exemplified their original times and later found new functions; the classical chapel survived the burning of the city and served as a sanctuary during the Revolutionary War. Two hundred years later, St. Paul’s also survived the 9/11 attacks, becoming a refuge for recovery workers and a memorial site. Other structures discussed by Roberts include reminders of municipal politics (and corruption), the rise of the department store, the value of maritime commerce, electric power for the transit system, a tragic sweatshop fire, live theater in the city, a run on banks during the Great Depression, and pioneering public housing.
VERDICT Roberts’s wide-ranging historical research and storytelling skills should captivate New Yorkers and others. Larger photographs might have enhanced readers’ connection to these structures and their roles in the life of the city.

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