Like last year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gotham, this fat, rich history of New York City—a companion to the PBS series—offers two kinds of pleasure: hundreds of carefully chosen photographs and a thoughtful, well-written text.
We see cows grazing in a pasture next to Grand Central Station and the Statue of Liberty’s toes waiting for assembly, and we meet dozens of villains and heroes—from Boss Tweed, who shoveled millions of dollars into his and his friends’ wallets, to Jacob Riis, who pressed for tenement reform in the late 1890s.
Burns and Sanders are largely content to celebrate the city in all its brawling, squalid splendor, but they also draw attention to the latest wave of immigrants, mostly poor and hopeful, 3 million of whom have arrived in the city since 1970. And they also tell us about Potter’s Field, where Riis’ poor were buried, pointing out that it is still the resting place for New York’s indigent dead. B+