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04 April 2014

Edward Rutherford: New York

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A great history of one of the world's greatest cities
I have read several of Edward Rutherford's historical sagas about different cities throughout the world. This book is probably the one that has stayed in my memory for the longest because it not only tells the tale of a great city but it is also a tale of one of the world's great nations, from its beginning to the present day.

Rutherford told me about New York's Indian beginnings with the the Iroquoi and the Algonquians and first land claim by the Dutch culminating in 1626 with the purchase of the island of Manhattan from Native Americans. In 1664, England renamed the colony New York, after the Duke of York and it became the prime port of the 13 colonies. It also featured strongly in the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence.

What especially fascinated me was the early history of Wall Street which may have originally been the site of an earthen wall on the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement, built to protect against English colonial encroachment or incursions by native Americans. Such a difference to the present day canyon of tall buildings which is still the financial heart of the world economy.

Rutherford tells the tale of New York through the eyes of the inhabitants along the ages - the Indians, the colonial masters, the revolutionaries and especially the ordinary people and things who made New York the special place that it is - the African slaves, the Irish labourers, and the immigrants. Through their lives he follows the history of the city from the early days through to the 1929 stock market crash and eventually to the world shattering events of 9/11.

It is a long read but it was an easy way for me, as an Aussie, to be able to start to understand the key place played by New York and its people in world events over the last few centuries. Highly recommended as one of the best fictional histories of this great city.

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