Updated: Sep 6, 2021
New York puts history in context.
It is a family saga with roots in the earliest settlement of Manhattan Island by the Dutch, when it was known as New Amsterdam. The fictional Master family interacts with real historical figures and events. As I read, I thought how great it would have been to learn high school American history by reading this novel rather than recite event dates. Precolonial life, the American revolution, slavery, the civil war, America becoming a world power, the great depression; they are all depicted, as well as tragedies from the Triangle fire to 9/11. By living with the generations of the Master family and seeing all of this through their eyes, history is no longer dry.
I don’t mean to paint New York as an instructional text and leave it at that. It is a fine read as well. Rutherfurd weaves an involving story around the Master family and the people who come into their lives. If there is a shortcoming, it is in that we cannot spend enough time with each member, except a few Master women who span several generations, to fully develop each character, even though the book is 800 pages long.
The book engaged me and gave me history perspective I relished. I look forward to going to other places in Rutherfurd’s books.