Waterfront by Phillip Lopate
A Journey Around Manhattan (Crown Journeys)

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Fusing history, lore, politics, culture, and on-site adventures, esteemed essayist and author Phillip Lopate takes us on an exuberant, affectionate, and eye-opening excursion around Manhattan’s shoreline. Waterfront captures the ever-changing character of New York in the best way possible: on a series of exploratory walks conducted by one of the city’s most engaging and knowledgeable guides. Starting at the Battery and moving at a leisurely pace along the banks of the Hudson and East Rivers, Lopate describes the infrastructures, public spaces, and landmarks he encounters, along with fascinating insights into how they came to be. Unpeeling layers of myth and history, he reveals the economic, ecological, and political concerns that influenced the city’s development, reporting on everything from the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to the latest projects dotting the shorelines.

New York’s waterfront has undergone a three-stage revaluation—from the world’s largest port to an abandoned, seedy no-man’s land to a highly desirable zone of parks and upscale retail and residential properties—each metamorphosis only incompletely shedding earlier associations. Physically, no area of New York City has changed as dramatically as the shoreline, thanks to natural processes and the use of landfill, dredging, and other interventions. Everywhere Phillip Lopate walked on the waterfront, he saw the present as a layered accumulation of older narratives. He set about his task by trying to read the city like a text. One textual layer is the past, going back to the Lenape Indians, Captain Kidd, and Melville’s sailors; another is the present—whatever or whoever was popping up in his view at the moment; a third layer contains the constructed environment, the architecture or piers or parks currently along the shore; another layer still is his personal history, the memories recalled by visiting certain spots; yet another consists of the city’s incredibly rich cultural record—the literature, films, and artwork that threw a reflecting light on the matter at hand; and finally, there is the invisible or imagined layer—what he thinks should be on the waterfront but is not.

Waterfront is studded with short diversions where Lopate expounds on some of the greater issues, characters, and sites of Manhattan’s shoreline. Be it a revisionist examination of Robert Moses, the effect of shipworms on the city’s piers and foundations, the battle over Westway, the dream of public housing, the legacy of Joseph Mitchell, a wonderful passage about the longshoremen and Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, or the meaning of the World Trade Center, Lopate punctuates this marvelous journey with the sights and sounds and words of a world like no other.

A rich and impressive work by an undisputed master stylist, Waterfront takes its rightful place next to other literary classics of New York, such as E. B. White’s Here Is New York and Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. It is an unparalleled look at New York’s landscape and history and an irresistible invitation to meander along its outermost edges.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Phillip Lopate

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Phillip Lopate is the author of more than a dozen books, including three personal essay collections, Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body, and Waterfront. He directs the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.
Published December 18, 2008 by Anchor. 450 pages
Genres: History, Travel, Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Lopate notes the role of schist, marble, and gneiss, animal skins and oysters, the tension between public space and private enclaves “as hidden from public view as the Imperial Palace in Peking,” the visual joy of the Starrett-Lehigh Building’s “flapjack stack of fenestration,” and the grudging, ...

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Publishers Weekly

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A pictorial celebration of New York's maritime heritage, the book reproduces more than 100 black-and-white photographs from the vast collection of vintage photos and negatives that the Frederick Lewis News Agency bequeathed to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va., starting in 1955.

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Publishers Weekly

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Unlike other great cities, as eminent essayist and New York devotee Lopate (Getting Personal ) observes, "Manhattan is almost pathologically averse to letting you wander to the river's edge and get close enough to touch the water."

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