In 2015, the beautiful jazz funeral in New Orleans for composer Allen Toussaint coincided with a debate over removing four Confederate monuments. Mayor Mitch Landrieu led the ceremony, attended by living legends of jazz, music aficionados, politicians, and everyday people. The scene captured the history and culture of the city in microcosm--a city legendary for its noisy, complicated, tradition-rich splendor. In City of a Million Dreams, Jason Berry delivers a character-driven history of New Orleans at its tricentennial. Chronicling cycles of invention, struggle, death, and rebirth, Berry reveals the city's survival as a triumph of diversity, its map-of-the-world neighborhoods marked by resilience despite hurricanes, epidemics, fires, and floods.
Berry orchestrates a parade of vibrant personalities, from the founder Bienville, a warrior emblazoned with snake tattoos; to Governor William C. C. Claiborne, General Andrew Jackson, and Pere Antoine, an influential priest and secret agent of the Inquisition; Sister Gertrude Morgan, a street evangelist and visionary artist of the 1960s; and Michael White, the famous clarinetist who remade his life after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina. The textured profiles of this extraordinary cast furnish a dramatic narrative of the beloved city, famous the world over for mysterious rituals as people dance when they bury their dead.
Berry (Lead Us Not into Temptation) delivers an evocative, character-driven narrative history of New Orleans, highlighting its multiculturalism, love of spectacle, and resilience through fires, floods, and wars. In a detailed, novelistic style, Berry underscores the city's influential inhabitants, including its "cunning" founder, Cmdr. Gen. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who was seasoned in diplomacy with a Native American culture that "negotiated power through ritual dancing"; missionary priest Antonio de Sedella, who also served as a secret agent for the Spanish Inquisition; Benjamin LaTrobe, the first professional architect and engineer in the U.S., who built New Orleans a steam-powered waterworks; furniture and coffin maker Pierre Casanave, a prominent member of free black society; and 1960s evangelist and artist Sister Gertrude Morgan. Emphasizing New Orleans's complex culture, Berry covers the city's early Jesuit influence; the sinuous ring dances enslaved people performed as a tribute to the dead; the emergence of voodoo in the late 1700s; the "ripening public square" with its military bands, Native American delegation parades, and masked balls during Carnival; the rise of jazz and its central figures; and the city's gentrification and race relations since Hurricane Katrina. This is a multifaceted, detailed portrait of one of America's most unusual and culturally rich cities.