“Comprehensive and compassionatean essential text of American history and culture.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Harlem is perhaps the most famous, iconic neighborhood in the United States
. A bastion of freedom and the capital of Black America, Harlem
’s twentieth-century renaissance changed our arts, culture, and politics forever. But this is only one of the many chapters in a wonderfully rich and varied history. Jonathan Gill’s Harlem
is a groundbreaking history, the first to present the complete chronicle of this remarkable place.
From Henry Hudson’s first contact with native Harlemites on the island they called Mannahatta, through Harlem
’s years as a colonial outpost at the edge of the known world, Gill traces the neighborhood’s story, marshaling a tremendous wealth of detail and a host of fascinating figures. Harlem
was an agricultural center under British rule, the site of a key early Revolutionary War battle, and later a bucolic site for the great estates of wealthy elites like Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and John James Audubon, who all sought respite from the epidemics raging downtown. In the nineteenth century, improved transportation brought urbanization as well as waves of immigrants: Harlem
is central to the American experience of Germans, Jews, Italians, Irish, West Indians, Puerto Ricans, and, later, Dominicans and West Africans. Harlem
’s mix of cultures, races, religions, extraordinary wealth and refinement, and extreme poverty and violent crime has been both electrifying and explosive. Jazz, the musical, the American songbook, hip-hop, and some of the bravest voices in American literature found their home in Harlem
. So, too, did street-corner preachers, racial demagogues, and civil rights pioneers.
Like Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World
and Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace’s Gotham,
Jonathan Gill’s history will delight readers interested in early New York
and will be read for years to come, but its unique focus on the incomparable Harlem
sets it apart.