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The Colossus of New York

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In a dazzlingly original work of nonfiction, the award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead re-creates the exuberance, the chaos, the promise, and the heartbreak of New York. Here is a literary love song that will entrance anyone who has lived in—or spent time—in the greatest of American cities.

A masterful evocation of the city that never sleeps, The Colossus of New York captures the city’s inner and outer landscapes in a series of vignettes, meditations, and personal memories. Colson Whitehead conveys with almost uncanny immediacy the feelings and thoughts of longtime residents and of newcomers who dream of making it their home; of those who have conquered its challenges; and of those who struggle against its cruelties.

Whitehead’s style is as multilayered and multifarious as New York itself: Switching from third person, to first person, to second person, he weaves individual voices into a jazzy musical composition that perfectly reflects the way we experience the city. There is a funny, knowing riff on what it feels like to arrive in New York for the first time; a lyrical meditation on how the city is transformed by an unexpected rain shower; and a wry look at the ferocious battle that is commuting. The plaintive notes of the lonely and dispossessed resound in one passage, while another captures those magical moments when the city seems to be talking directly to you, inviting you to become one with its rhythms.

The Colossus of New York is a remarkable portrait of life in the big city. Ambitious in scope, gemlike in its details, it is at once an unparalleled tribute to New York and the ideal introduction to one of the most exciting writers working today.

From the Hardcover edition.

158 pages, Paperback

First published October 21, 2003

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About the author

Colson Whitehead

38 books14.9k followers

COLSON WHITEHEAD is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of eleven works of fiction and nonfiction, and is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, for The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, which also won the National Book Award. A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.

Harlem Shuffle is the first book in The Harlem Trilogy. The second, Crook Manifesto, will be published in 2023.

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5 stars
782 (25%)
4 stars
1,096 (35%)
3 stars
882 (28%)
2 stars
279 (8%)
1 star
81 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 439 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,479 followers
April 11, 2017
I read this book some years ago when a friend sent it to me. Its prose was fascinating with a mesmerising switching of narrators and a splendid and entrancing portrait of New York City. I felt it was well-written but perhaps a little too short. I was glad to learn yesterday that Mr. Whitehead just got the Pulitzer for 2017 for his book the Underground Railroad, so you can be sure this will be moving up on my TBR!
A hearty congrats to Colson Whitehead!
Profile Image for Left Coast Justin.
376 reviews76 followers
February 21, 2022
Don't let my low rating dissuade you from reading this. I was expecting one thing and got something else entirely, and just couldn't get over my feeling of disappointment.

Whitehead is an observer of people, and a skilled writer. I had been led to believe this was a masterful essay about NYC, a city that has always interested me -- not because I have much interest in the city itself, but rather because so many talented people have chosen to live there and write about it.

This extended essay, which takes the form nearly of a stream-of-conscience meander through a New Yorker's winter's day, could have been a resident of any city. The universality of it, which appeals to many readers, left me completely flat. There's not a paragraph here that couldn't just have easily been in Bratislava, or San Francisco, or Vancouver. I'm feeling a little robbed.

Chalk it up to my lack of openness to unexpected experiences, if you wish. But I found myself disengaged and unwilling to continue.
Profile Image for Steffi.
948 reviews195 followers
July 18, 2019
The Underground Railroad war eine tolle Geschichte, konventionell erzählt. Zone One und Apex enthielten tolle Sätze, beeindruckende Bilder, die ich in Underground Railroad so nicht fand. Aber diese beiden Romane hatten so ihre Längen, die Plots waren nicht immer gut strukturiert. Aber dass Whitehead schreiben kann, dass zeigten alle diese Werke.

Und nun endlich ein Buch, dass seinem Können gerecht wird. In diesen kurzen, assoziativen Näherungen an Orte und Phänomene in New York schlägt mich Whitehead komplett in seinen Bann. Hier benötigt er keinen Plot, er konserviert Stimmungen, Augenblicke – immer aus wechselnden Blickwinkeln, was gar nicht irritiert, weil es hier eben um nichts anderes geht als dieses Atmosphärische. Und das gelingt ihm eben mit diesen wunderbaren Bildern.

Das mag dem ein oder anderen zu viel des Guten sein, ich kann nicht genug davon bekommen. Und meine Sehnsucht, endlich einmal nach New York zu kommen, wurde erneut geweckt!
Profile Image for Toby.
829 reviews328 followers
May 8, 2018
Like reading a Godfrey Reggio movie, all it needed was a Philip Glass soundtrack.

I hate leaving Perth but I love to read hugely talented writers passionately explain what it is like to inhabit their own town and the world agrees that Colson Whitehead is a hugely talented writer and The Colossus of New York proves that he is a true New Yorker.

A wonderful reading experience.
Profile Image for Papaphilly.
263 reviews68 followers
January 21, 2017
Collosus of New York is so devastatingly good I cannot do it justice on this page. Colson Whitehead has written a love song to the city of New York in a way that maybe only the Metropolitan region will understand. His prose is so understatedly beautiful, it is almost lost in its simplicity of the feeling he confers to the reader. He has done a remarkable job of catching a sensibility about the city, but not the broad brush strokes everyone sees and knows, but the fine lines only the locals understand. Colson Whitehead loves New York City and he writes about the city much like a lover trying to describe the scent of skin that drives him wild. This is truly a great read and you will love his prose like he loves New York City.
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book969 followers
November 23, 2016
In this homage to his beloved city, Whitehead weaves 13 pieces of 13 different locales. It's penned in fragmented sentences that convey his message that this is a city of fragments - some fragments are subtle enough to evade your detection, others are sharp enough to cut and wound. And in the end no one can ever assemble the experiences into a whole as the landscape is constantly shifting, always changing - your favorite deli is now an H&M, your auto mechanic can no longer afford the rent and has moved to PA.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,418 reviews536 followers
May 14, 2018
3+ Fun and biting freeform riffs about life in NYC. Port Authority, Rain, Subway, Central Park etc. A few of them really clicked. By the end, I felt like after a day in Times Square. Overloaded!
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
624 reviews304 followers
August 4, 2021
A loving look at the beauty and misery that is NYC for those who live there, those who’ve moved there, those who’ve vacationed there and those who’ve heard stories about the crazy place that it can be.

My favourite viewpoints/essays were Port Authority and the experience of taking the bus there, outta there, and the importance of its place as an intersecting pathway to the rest of the country. It was vivid touching in its accuracy and much more detailed and lucid than the last essay about JFK. I loved the viewpoint on Central Park, which is simultaneously the most beautiful and scariest place to visit in NYC lmaoo.

Also, Morning — I think that essay is relatable for anyone trying to make it in a big city doing the damn thing, fighting the rats for space in the world where you’re also a rat, but in a different sort of way.

A couple of my favourite sentences:

Re: City Limits — > Consider what all your old apartments would say if they got together to swap stories. They could piece together the starts and finishes of your relationships, complain about your wardrobe and musical tastes, gossip about who you are after midnight.

Re: The Port Authority — > IT IS THE biggest hiding place in the world. The inevitable runaways. The abandoned, only recently reading between the lines.

> In effect, no matter what time of day it is, everyone arrives at the same time, in the same weather, and in this way it is possible for all of them to start even.

Re: Morning > The snow is already shamed and grimed: five minutes is all it takes for this city to break you.

> This wind will mug you of everything, make you look ridiculous as you try to maintain.

Re: Central Park — > IT’S A little-known fact that people are buried here but only the murderers know the exact locations.

Re: Downtown — > How do they all fit. Squabbling like pigeons over stale crumbs of seats. Everyone thinks they are more deserving, everyone thinks their day has been harder than everyone else’s, and everyone is correct.

It is a wonderfully warm and funny in its truthfulness type of read.
Profile Image for Megan.
1,081 reviews63 followers
July 28, 2018
My introduction to Colson Whitehead was The Underground Railroad, and while I'm eager to read more of his fiction, I was curious about his non-fiction. This is a sprawling account of New York City life, constructed and written in rhythmic fragments that slice at the strange coupling of anonymity and intimacy that defines city life. He smoothly translates the mental work of living in the city while still building up the emotional experience of it. For all those fragmented sentences, Whitehead writes with vivid and often surprising imagery, and though I kind of longed for consistently complete sentences by the end, I did love his prose and what it was doing. It's not a memoir, and as the first chapter gets into, no single person's New York is anyone else's New York, but it's an account of the overlapping nature of these New Yorks.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
647 reviews
November 19, 2016
This beautifully written book is shelved under "essays," but really it should be prose poetry. Colton Whitehead's love of New York is apparent in every paragraph. He describes the city with its vibrancy, drama, shadows, beauty and ugliness incredibly vividly. It's a small book that you'll want to keep handy to get a shot of good writing.
Profile Image for Gabe.
128 reviews107 followers
December 31, 2011
When I read a book, I underline lines I like. Here are all the lines I underlined, mashed together:

You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now. Somewhere in that fantastic, glorious mess was the address on the piece of paper. The only skyscrapers visible from your stroller were the legs of adults but you got to know the ground pretty well and started to wonder why some sidewalks sparkle at certain angles, and others don't. The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone. They are the caretakers of your reinventions. New York City does not hold our former selves against us. Perhaps we can extend the same courtesy. It contains your neighborhoods. Or doesn't We overlap. Or don't. They're all broken somehow, sagging down the stairs of the bus. Otherwise they would have come here differently. He is unaware that his duffel hits each person on the head as he passes. That is surely a wig two rows up. They try out new positions for their legs. Each new combination of limbs might be the one that unlocks the vault of comfort and then sleep. Instead, parts that don't matter fall asleep before their brains. legs, feet. As they cross state lines, license plates change colors. Thank God for the white detachable headrest slip-covers, an invention that saves us from germs. Fro ten miles of interstate a man inspects his face in the bathroom mirror. Is he actually going to start fresh in a new place with that face of his. If you can endure the verdict of the fluorescent lighting the city will be no problem. She will be stylish there. No one will know the nickname that makes him mad. This is the right decision, they tell themselves. In effect, no matter what time of day it is, everyone arrives at the same time, in the same weather. While you were safe in here the world may have lost its way. Take your eyes off this city and it will play tricks. We could all use a handy computer graphic and earnest newscaster and ominous tagline for this new phase of our lives, yet no technicians scramble to produce it. Check the weather: there's a little cartoon sun over a region you don't inhabit. So nice to wake to your spouse's hip but then remember last night's disagreement and decide you are still angry. We take our places. But for once it is nice to be free of politeness. Button the top button you save for emergencies. The snow is already shamed and grimed: five minutes is all it takes for this city to break you. A motley crew waits for transportation. Leave the house fifteen minutes later or earlier and join a different cast of characters. Seeing the particular awning through the bus window that announces he is almost there. Mornings will kill you with their trapdoors. This wind will mug you of everything, make you look ridiculous as you try to maintain. The same greetings to each customer. His entire shipment of coffee lids is defective, irritating customers one by one. Notice your first wrinkle, it made you late in front of the bathroom sink. After work and before sleep you let your true self out for a few hours and now you must pay for it. If you don't plan ahead, who will you be. All of them have things waiting to come out through their skins. Hide a toy in your pocket. He's not supposed to take it to school, but who can dispute the power of cereal box talismans. One after the other the long days stretch ahead until the day you decide. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Take five seconds to collect yourself starting now. Then back to work everybody and I mean it. Whole possibilities canceled by this first mistake. Every evening walking the same path to the same tree, just to make sure it is still there. A man and woman pose on opposite benches, taking turns catching each other looking. Some ducks. He's definitely wearing the wrong shoes. Smile, everybody, smile. What are you thinking about. Dead men dynamited rock to undo glacial handiwork but holdout boulders remain, unwilling to part with the deeds. Climbing across them children find themselves on the moon. The tree he and his brother used to climb is no longer so tall and kids since have snapped off the branches they made rungs. He climbs up anyway Thirteen stitches. Mistakes have been made in the area of shorts. Years from now she will see her photograph in a gallery and wonder why she was crying. He is the king of the playground thanks to his hormonal problem. Their family looks happier than yours. For whole minutes it is as if you live somewhere else than where you do. And what is that like. Like there are other choices. It never happened. Except her on that bench. She stretches her arms. What a nice day. It is hard to escape the suspicion that your train just left, the last squeal of your train drained away the moment you reach the platform, and if you had acted differently everything would be better. You should have left sooner, primped less. Reconsiderations: taking a cab, grabbing a bus, hoofing it. No, it's too far and the train is coming. It must be coming. Why else would you stand there. From his secret booth the announcer scares and reassures alternately. Look down the tunnel one more time and your behavior will describe a psychiatric disorder. Halfway to the interview she notices two typos in her resume. People examine the scuff marks on their shoes when he walks by with his cup. But sometimes the lights go out and what do you do then with all these monsters beside you. Out on the street they hardly notice the clouds before it starts raining. It finds the nape of your neck easily. The long list of errands shrinks into what people can do in the least amount of water. Now no one will suspect she has been crying. Is this the end of their love. Tonight the bunched balls of his socks will dry and stiffen into dingy fists, and roll under the bureau, where they will hide for months and foment. All our vain gestures. Identical twins wear identical yellow slickers, out of which identical noses poke. What's this in the raincoat pocket. Apparently the last time it rained he saw a romantic comedy. Once the engine is off they can make out the rain's true incantation on the roof of the car. It stops. From the river you can see the clouds haunch over adjacent boroughs. Bleak fathoms. But what kind of equations emerge from such uneven terms. People try to make other people's babies smile as they wait for the light to change. See that the last time he walked this block he was tipsy or in love. From gutters, rats exclaim in gutter chorus; life is an argument with the world over time. If anyone were listening it'd be worth the breath. He receives word of a remarkable new treatment or other indispensable thing. Lacking a pen he tries to memorize the phone number, repeating it to himself in a singsong way until more vulgar ditties shoulder it aside, bassoon of buses rumbling to beat the light, high-heel castanets on cement, and soon all he has is two digits left and his own lost cause. What they will find under their feet will not be pavement but something shiftier. All tomorrow's sunburns gather in wait. Try to remember your personal formula for comfort on a beach, the whole towel thing. Sizzle on the griddle. Can you do my back. The number of house keys lost this day will fall within the daily average of lost house keys. Ripping little shreds of comfort from an afternoon. Here are some places sand gets into: eyes, sandwiches, shoes, under beds, scalps, carpets, car floors. Crotches and brainstems and decision-making places. Kids with pails move this bunch of sand from here to there to undo the secret design of tides. Aeons in the making and now it's all ruined. Rule is, violence on purpose and beauty by accident. Depressing mechanical regularity. Close your eyes. That wasn't so bad now, was it. Events a thousand miles away find their final meaning in these gentle little consequences begging at the shore. Look at this pretty shell. Don't blink or else you'll miss it--that father's annual display of affection toward his son. They keep to themselves the odd feelings brought on by the novelty of a horizon after so many horizonless days. Cherish the fear in loose bolts, statistical inevitabilities. Swayed by their own fictions. If you have no philosophy one will be appointed you. Remembering that disappointed feeling she gets each time she reaches the other side, then feeling that disappointed feeling. People huddle into elevators and ride down into in-betweenness, into the space between work and home that is a kind of dreaming: it's where they go to make sense of what just happened so they can go a little farther. Walk in the shadow of subconscious. And inevitably all who see it extract the wrong morals from the stories. In buildings comprised of other buildings' discarded thirteenth floors, sinister transactions unfold. When discovered, he will offer no excuse for wearing women's underpants. The wind tunnel round this building finally alerts him that his fly has been open for hours. Such curious rituals fill their days. Everyone else's good fortune is food out of your mouth or a hug you never got from someone who should have loved you better. Do public monies actually go to support the conception execution and installation of that hideous public art. The day waters down indignity with frustration to make it last longer. Everyone thinks they are more deserving, everyone thinks their day has been harder than everyone else's, and everyone is correct. Like the best storms, rush hour starts out as a slight drizzle, then becomes unholy deluge. They meet here every day at this time to hold hands and whisper. Did you remember to save enough energy for one last sprint. What are skinned knees compared to what is in store. Sleep the sleep of the successful because somehow you made it through the day without anyone finding out that you are a complete fraud. Twilight is a mask factory. He overhears his words coming out of someone else's mouth and wishes his complaints were not so common. Pace yourself. Things are just getting started. What do you feel like doing. Seething over appetizers, they save it up for home so they don't fight in the restaurant. It's nice to have an activity or hobby you can share with your spouse. These two have decided on spite and it has brought them closer together. They eat here once a month but something about this meal makes them realize things haven't worked out for a while now and they'll never return. By the time you return the party will have aligned in your favor. Planting this rumor is harder than it first looked. For the last half hour she has been trying to gain converts to grudges but no luck. Wow, this crappy performance art is really making me feel not so terrible about my various emotional issues. Hour by hour the customers change, grow humps horns scales. He made too many plans with too many people and things will not turn out okay. People are up to no good in there. She has been following him for twenty blocks and he still hasn't noticed. One by one we are becoming unrecognizable. Not a third of the way to the punchline it's clear the joke is going to bomb. He confesses his love when the room momentarily clears. Suddenly realizing that you're talking awfully close. Everybody else seems to have left and what does that mean. The true enemy is not the world's disdain but its indifference. What they take for her air of mystery is merely a side effect of her medication. None of them have commented on her engagement ring so she knocks everybody's drinks over. Reach inside to muzzle the broken part of you that is now talking. They don't want to go home. What is there to say as you pass the humble places that helped you in ways you cannot understand. That persistent problem of scale. The parts she gets offered nowadays mother the ingenues she used to play. Divert all the energy rushing into this place to power your subconscious. It would probably look like this. The cancan girls are on penicillin. Why should anyone else have it easy.
Profile Image for Miodrag Milovanović.
Author 13 books22 followers
December 25, 2021
Da završim godinu sa nečim zaista lepim. Potpuno slučajno naleteo sam u jednoj od knjižara antikvarnica na ovu knjigu prelepih eseja Kolsona Vajtheda o Njujorku iz 2003. Ovo je knjiga koja mora da se čita polako, esej po esej...
U nekima od njih Vajthed lirskim pasažima hvata ritam grada, rađanja dana, dolaska u grad metroom; u drugima duhovito, na granici cinizma, ali uvek ostajući na pravoj strani, secira navike Njujorčana. Neke od njih bi lako bilo moguće zameniti za pesme u prozi, drugačije od bilo čega što sam čitao.
Neki su pisani u prvom, neki u drugom, neki u trećem licu, svaki na svoj način predstavlja mali biser proze. Ko je ovo imao prilike da čita pre Podzemne železnice, mogao je lako da vidi buduću zvezdu u nastajanju...
Profile Image for Izetta Autumn.
418 reviews
February 22, 2009
Colson Whitehead delivers yet another course in strong writing. The Colossus of New York is a love letter to New York city. Whitehead captures the ebb, flow, and character of JFK, rain in the city, and Times Square. The collection - a series of short pieces linked by gymnasticaly clever language and topic, to form a pre-twitter, twitter-styled novella. Though less fluid than the other writing I've read by Whitehead - the clipped sentences, point of view changes, and clever language, all together, can be at first disorienting, the book remains a delight. I appreciate Whitehead's creativity - and of course, his hallmark skills with language and uncannily perceptive insight, are again on display - and here, as in other works, it results in some truly poetic phrasing and sharp observations. As when he desribes everyone's favorite city dweller: the hipster.

"Hipsters seek refuge in church, Our Lady of Perpetual Subculture. There is some discussion as to whether or not they are still cool but then they are calmed by the obscure location and the arrival of their kind. Keep the address to yourself, let the rabble find it for themselves. Wow, this crappy performance art is really aking me feel not so terrible about my various emotional issues."

Whitehead evocatively draws the city - and the special nuances of city life. The possessiveness, routines that declare belonging, and the humor in being shoved so close to one another, and yet busy with our own "rich interior lives."

Each time I read something by Whitehead, I feel lucky to have found out about him.
121 reviews8 followers
May 19, 2011
If you have ever lived in NYC, this book will strike chords.
If you have never lived in NYC, this book will hint at the world.

I truly loved reading this. The craft of excellent word-choice is alive and well. The turns that 7-word sentences can take and reverse are brilliantly shown. The shifts in persepctive and perception are constnat without being jarring.

I can't really say enough about this one without going into some sort of swoon or writing an essay. I think I'll just choose to state that this book is awesome.
Profile Image for Kim Williams.
196 reviews2 followers
December 31, 2022
It reads like beat poetry and is every bit as deep. Thirteen sections illustrate the experience of being in and living in New York City. The scenes painted in these pages give us the good, the bad and the ugly of living in this amazing metropolis, and will have native readers nodding and chuckling in knowing appreciation (perhaps while reading this on our beloved subway.) A great read and a great journey through our city.
Profile Image for Robert Beveridge.
2,402 reviews149 followers
January 21, 2008
Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts (Doubleday, 2003)

When one encounters the name "Colson Whitehead," one is apt to think of an old Irish immigrant viewing the city through a jaundiced eye, bleary from another night of stumbling home in rush hour only to find he's locked himself out of his bachelor pad and can't get to the can of beans sitting on the counter seductively calling his name. Instead, what we're given is a young (younger than I am, anyway) born-and-raised New Yorker writing about the place he calls home.

But Colson Whitehead's The Colossus of New York is not just another travelogue. Oh, no, my friends. In fact, it is anything but; I seriously doubt the NY tourism board is going to be recommending this one. At times loving and ominous, sweet and sassy, laugh-out-loud funny and painfully depressed, The Colossus of New York is much like New York itself. There are eight million stories in the naked city, Whitehead wryly quotes, and one would think from reading this that every one of them is feeling a completely different emotion from any of the others at any given moment, and that it's all a constantly swirling chaotic mass. Amen.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book is how Whitehead manages to take this odd, impressionist look at New York and map it onto you, the reader. You're liable to find at least one or two snatches of sentence per page you can identify with, even if you've never set foot within an hundred miles of the place. Thus, even if you care nothing about New York, it's probable he's going to keep you interested in its goings-on. A beautiful thing, that. But the draw of the book, and its continuing majesty throughout, is Whitehead's ability with language. His diction takes us from the language poetry of Charles Olson to the Nuyorican-style street rap that passes for poetry among slammers, but with Whitehead the language never loses its poetic drive. All of it, even the ugliness, is beautiful.

And above all, The Colossus of New York is a love song, the kind that one would write to one's spouse after seventy years of marriage if one could find a way to include all one's spouse's faults and still make it beautiful. This is a powerful little book, and highly deserving of the widest possible audience. A shoo-in for the top ten list this year. **** ½
Profile Image for Jennifer Spiegel.
Author 9 books83 followers
February 2, 2018
I love this writer. I will read him again. His publishers got his manuscript in their hands, and were, like, "What do we DO? This guy writes like a mofo! He's unbelievable! There's absolutely no story whatsoever, not a character to speak of, and it's not memoir or really essay but it's maybe poetry. Do you think it's poetry? But, publisher friends, every single sentence is gold, PURE GOLD. Figurative language up the kazoo! I mean, sure, you're exhausted after ten minutes of reading. And the writers who read it might focus on every sentence until they have aneurisms, but WHAT DO WE DO? HE'S SO BRILLIANT!?! Let's publish it!"

And so it was.

Every. single. sentence.

If you thought ZONE ONE was over-the-top, don't even.

If you're a closet poet, try it.

Amazing stuff abounds . . .

“The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone.”

"Failing at everything except his fear of success. Passed over yet again. Archivist of slights. Everyone else's good fortune is food out of your mouth or a hug you never got from someone who should have loved you better. Halfway through lunch she realized glass ceilings allow glimpses up into another person's hell.”

"Hipsters seek refuge in church, Our Lady of Perpetual Subculture.”

He never stops.
Profile Image for James.
Author 21 books43 followers
July 10, 2020
More narrative poetry than essay, this books creatively encapsulates the minutiae of what life in NYC really feels like, whether you were born there or just lived there for a little while.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,076 reviews52 followers
August 30, 2021
One of the biggest selling points for this book is that Whitehead (a New Yorker) is largely writing it for those of us who are visitors to the city. He knows his audience, there are no inside jokes about the city here. You can even feel the grittiness of some of the neighborhoods in the writing but most of the content is related to the well known landmarks like Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island, Broadway, Times Square, etc.

The one drawback to the book is there is a lack of history, so a fairly contemporary view.

4 stars. I really enjoyed this read and it could be excellent background for someone writing a book about any city really.
Profile Image for Rick Wilson.
614 reviews220 followers
July 18, 2022
Some beautiful lines in here.

“ they hit the streets, the streets hit back”

“The true enemy is not the worlds distain, but it’s indifference”

“ what they take for her air of mystery is really a side effect of her medication “

“The loneliness is the worst for it cannot be shared, only suffered”
Profile Image for quynh.
93 reviews1 follower
June 23, 2022
remarkably eh. very Masculine. idk if ur into that then you’d like it. but it’s not anything special in my opinion.
Profile Image for Lisa Laureano.
48 reviews2 followers
May 16, 2019
This book has a certain grace, even a certain beauty in its efforts to capture the interior lives of New Yorkers. If you've spent any time at all in the City you will immediately recognize the scenes Whitehead describes, and he does so lyrically. But the writing seems absolutely devoid of joy; hints of positive emotions are quickly doused by predictions of doom and disappointment. Whitehead's "City in Thirteen Parts" is intensely cynical about every aspect of life- work life, home life, even a trip to Central Park on the first warm day of spring becomes in Whitehead's hands utterly miserable for everyone involved. Depression and disappointment are his wares, and any of his conjured subjects who hopes to be in some small way happy, is deluded. Everyone, and everything, is a sham. Ambition or hope is the first step on the road to failure, etc. etc. I don't find this outlook to be sophisticated or "smart", though I suspect the author expected savvy insiders (real New Yorkers) to find it so. "Real" New Yorkers would doubtless retch if this book did display any sentimentality about their city; they ARE snarky, tough, and cynical, and to them that's the only way to live with dignity. I would have liked to at least been given a glance of the joy that underlies said snarkiness, the smug joy of being superior to every other being on earth, of being a REAL New Yorker.
Profile Image for Amy.
111 reviews3 followers
February 14, 2010
I taught this. It's a fast-paced take on what it feels like to be in New York City. Many of the details and sections are dead-on and wonderful, like the chapter on rain, which includes a sentence about the fastest way to heartbreak being to fall in love with your umbrella, and another sentence about walking out of a movie theater and seeing it rained and feeling like you missed something. In NYC there's always the sense of having missed something. I also loved the subway chapter, which includes a sentence or two about the seat on the train with the candy wrapper in it, how no one will sit there. It's the particulars Whitehead notices and then writes about in such a distinct way (windshield wipers as tossing in bed) that make the book very fun to read.
Profile Image for G.
871 reviews51 followers
July 18, 2008
It gets five stars just for the first essay. Not that the other ones aren't great - they are wonderful - but the first one so wonderfully encapsulates life in New York that it made me tear up.
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255 reviews
February 6, 2017
A real treat for lovers of New York. I read this in a rainy Sunday afternoon when I was really missing the city, now I feel like I just spent a short vacation there.
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