Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rutherford’s History of America

I heard an annoying person once say that the history of the Yankees is the history of baseball. No way I’m buying that one. But Edward Rutherford manages to make the history of New York the history of the United States. Rutherford’s New York covers the era from Peter Stuyvesant to the twenty-first century through multigenerational stories of fictional families representing different ethnic groups: Native "Indian," African, English, Dutch, German, Irish, and so on. The stories are interesting in themselves, but these imaginary people interact with actual figures and events in a way that makes real history vivid, memorable, and understandable.

I’m about 60% of the way through New York, and so far I’ve read about a long list of people, places, and events from American history, including these:

• The Dutch West India Company
• Henry Hudson
• Fur trading
• The origin of Broadway as an ancient Indian track
• Wampum
• The slave trade
• The American Revolution
• The Erie Canal
• George Whitefield
• Cricket
• Railroads
• Tammany Hall, Boss Tweed, and Thomas Nast
• Coney Island
• The Civil War
• Draft Riots
• Charles Dickens
• Karl Marx
• The New York Stock Exchange
• The robber barons and their business and banking schemes

I’ve also read the origins of the names Bronx, Yonkers, Knickerbockers, and Wall Street, and of the terms “Macaroni” (as in Yankee Doodle’s feather) and “Boss” (as in Mr. Tweed of Tammany Hall). I haven’t reached the twentieth century, so I haven’t read about the baseball Yankees yet. I doubt Rutherford will represent the whole history of baseball through that one team, though. And I’m positive he won’t claim that the history of the Knickerbockers is the history of basketball.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds so interesting. I will add it to the dozen or so books I have started and subsequently sidelined. Sigh. I certainly find almost any content on New York riveting, though!