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“An exquisitely detailed account of the 400-year history of Harlem.” —Booklist, 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. In Harlem, historian Jonathan Gill presents the first complete chronicle of this remarkable place.
From Henry Hudson’s first contact with native Harlemites, through Harlem’s years as a colonial outpost on the edge of the known world, Gill traces the neighborhood’s story, marshaling a tremendous wealth of detail and a host of fascinating figures from George Washington to Langston Hughes. Harlem was an agricultural center under British rule and the site of a key early battle in the Revolutionary War. Later, wealthy elites including Alexander Hamilton built great estates there for entertainment and respite from the epidemics ravaging downtown. In the nineteenth century, transportation urbanized Harlem and brought waves of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Ireland, and elsewhere. Harlem’s mix of cultures, extraordinary wealth, and extreme poverty was electrifying and explosive.
Extensively researched, impressively synthesized, eminently readable, and overflowing with captivating characters, Harlem is a “vibrant history” and an impressive achievement (Publishers Weekly).
“Comprehensive and compassionate—an essential text of American history and culture.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“It’s bound to become a classic or I’ll eat my hat!” —Edwin G. Burrows, Pulitzer Prize–winning coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
Historian Gill documents Harlem's transformation from the early days of Dutch settlements and farms to its apogee as the site of one of the 20th century's most influential musical and literary flowerings in a dense, deftly told history. The author takes us from colonial Harlem, so strategically important in the American Revolution, to the 20th-century crucible of African-American arts and intellectual development, a place so vaunted that "Negroes wanted to go to Harlem the way the dead wanted to go to heaven." He invokes a veritable who's who of the black arts and intelligentsia who either called the neighborhood home or launched their careers in its embrace. Gill's analysis of Harlem's decline in the 1970s and the concomitant unemployment and crime is thorough, although his account of the Black Panthers and his analysis of the era's various "disturbances" particularly a 1967 riot following a fatal episode of police brutality wants a more nuanced interpretation. From the 1994 economic revitalization to the specter of gentrification, Gill makes a persuasive case that "change is Harlem's defining characteristic," and readers of this vibrant history will appreciate every step of its singular evolution.