I Never Knew That About New York, by Christopher Winn

Review published on September 5, 2013.Reviewed by Kirsty Hewitt

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

I’m sure that I speak for many when I say that New York is one of my favourite cities. I was astounded by it when I visited in 2011, and Winn’s marvellous book has left me longing to go back. I Never Knew That About New York is an addition to an already impressive series, which includes similar fact books about Ireland, Scotland, The Lake District and Royal Britain, amongst others. In I Never Knew That About New York, Winn has endeavoured to dig ‘beneath the gleaming taverns and mean streets of New York’ and ‘discovers its secrets and hidden treasures… [He] unearths much that is unexpected and unremembered’. Strange, then, that two rather commonplace facts are included on the book’s dustjacket – that the Empire State building was the tallest in the world for a forty year period, and that the Grand Central Terminal is the largest railway station in the world.

I Never Knew That About New York is split into separate sections which relate to different districts or areas of the city. These range from New York Harbor and Wall Street to Chelsea and Greenwich Village. Rather than focus on New York State, Winn has taken only Manhattan Island as his foundation for this volume, in fear of not doing the other boroughs justice. The entirety of the book is written in columns, almost forming a continuous newspaper article. The style of the headings merely add to this effect. Throughout, illustrations by Mai Osawa have been included, and it is fair to say that her beautiful line drawings match the text perfectly.

A timeline of Manhattan has been provided at the beginning of the book. It begins in 1524, when Giovanni da Verrazano became the first European to enter New York, and stretches to the sole entry for 2013, which states that the One World Trade Center was completed. Winn has encompassed the full history of New York, from navigator Henry Hudson sailing up the Hudson River in 1609 to Wilbur Wright’s 1909 flight from Governor’s Island (the first ever in a military plane and the first flight over water in America); from the Great Fire of 1835 to a list of the tallest buildings in the city; from the formation of Little Italy to the beginnings of world famous shops and delicatessens; and from the city’s first speakeasy to the many Art Deco buildings which grace its streets. Separate grey boxes dotted throughout reveal biographies of notable figures associated with the city – Cornelius Vanderbilt, for example. The city’s many monuments, tourist attractions and historical events are also presented in this way, ranging from facts pertaining to The Statue of Liberty and the circumstances of John Lennon’s murder, to the famous couples married at the Marble Collegiate Church.

I Never Knew That About New York is a fabulous resource for jetsetters and armchair travellers alike. Its format as an amalgamation of travel guide and fact book is sure to be a marvellous companion for anyone embarking on either a short break or a longer stay. The geographical format makes such a use of it perfect, in fact.


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