David R. Bunch’s Moderan (Book acquired, 13 Sept. 2018)

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I’ve enjoyed dipping into the first few stories in NYRB’s collection of David R. Bunch’s Moderan stories over the past few days. Bunch’s weird world has meshed nicely with the Strugatsky’s The Snail on the Slope, which I finished today. More to come on Moderan, but here’s NRYB’s blurb for now:

Welcome to Moderan, world of the future. Here perpetual war is waged by furious masters fighting from Strongholds well stocked with “arsenals of fear” and everyone is enamored with hate. The devastated earth is coated by vast sheets of gray plastic, while humans vie to replace more and more of their own “soft parts” with steel. What need is there for nature when trees and flowers can be pushed up through holes in the plastic? Who requires human companionship when new-metal mistresses are waiting? But even a Stronghold master can doubt the catechism of Moderan. Wanderers, poets, and his own children pay visits, proving that another world is possible.

“As if Whitman and Nietzsche had collaborated,” wrote Brian Aldiss of David R. Bunch’s work. Originally published in science-fiction magazines in the 1960s and ’70s, these mordant stories, though passionately sought by collectors, have been unavailable in a single volume for close to half a century. Like Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, Bunch coined a mind-bending new vocabulary. He sought not to divert readers from the horror of modernity but to make us face it squarely.

This volume includes eleven previously uncollected Moderan stories.
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Camus, Eliot, and Kuper’s Kafka (Books acquired, 31 Aug. 2018)

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I went to my favorite used bookshop on Friday afternoon to browse, order another Gerald Murnane novel, and pick up a copy of George Eliot’s Silas Marner.

I spied a late fifties mass market copy of Albert Camus’ novel Exile and the Kingdom from Vintage Books. I fell in love with the cover (by George Giusti) and ended up picking it up, although I’ll admit I haven’t read a Camus novel since college (it was The Plague if memory serves).

Browsing copies of Silas Marner, I found this monstrosity:

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I don’t even know where to start with this cover. I mean, even the colors seem to clash. It doesn’t really come across in the photo, but this hardback has a cheap greasy feel to it. I initially assumed that it was some kind of TV or film tie in, but as far as I can tell…no. Horrifying. I ended up going with the Oxford edition with Ferdinand Hodler’s painting Unemployed on the cover.

When I got home, the mail had come. It included a copy of Peter Kuper’s Kafkaesque, which collects 14 of Kuper’s illustrated Kafka translations. Publisher Norton’s blurb:

Award-winning graphic novelist Peter Kuper presents a mesmerizing interpretation of fourteen iconic Kafka short stories.

Long fascinated with the work of Franz Kafka, Peter Kuper began illustrating his stories in 1988. Initially drawn to the master’s dark humor, Kuper adapted the stories over the years to plumb their deeper truths. Kuper’s style deliberately evokes Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel, contemporaries of Kafka whose wordless novels captured much of the same claustrophobia and mania as Kafka’s tales. Working from new translations of the classic texts, Kuper has reimagined these iconic stories for the twenty-first century, using setting and perspective to comment on contemporary issues like civil rights and homelessness.

Longtime lovers of Kafka will appreciate Kuper’s innovative interpretations, while Kafka novices will discover a haunting introduction to some of the great writer’s most beguiling stories, including “A Hunger Artist,” “In The Penal Colony,” and “The Burrow.” Kafkaesque stands somewhere between adaptation and wholly original creation, going beyond a simple illustration of Kafka’s words to become a stunning work of art.

Tadao Tsuge’s Slum Wolf (Book acquired, 13 Aug. 2018)

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The New York Review of Books’ NYRC imprint has put together Slum Wolf, a collection of Tadao Tsuge’s stories new in English translation by Ryan Holmberg (who provides a long afterword to the volume).

Here’s NYRC’s blurb

Tadao Tsuge is one of the pioneers of alternative manga, and one of the world’s great artists of the down-and-out. Slum Wolf is a new selection of his stories from the late Sixties and Seventies, never before available in English: a vision of Japan as a world of bleary bars and rundown flophouses, vicious street fights and strange late-night visions. In assured, elegantly gritty art, Tsuge depicts a legendary, aging brawler, a slowly unraveling businessman, a group of damaged veterans uniting to form a shantytown, and an array of punks, pimps, and drunks, all struggling for freedom, meaning, or just survival.

I read “Bum Mutt” this afternoon and it was pretty weird and dark.

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Novels by Acker, Orlovitz, and Murnane (Books acquired 1 and 6 Aug. 2018)

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I went by my favorite used bookshop to purge a bunch of books I’ll never read again and order Gerald Murane’s 1982 novel The Plains. I had finished most of Murnane’s collection Stream System, leaving only the longest story in the collection (“Velvet Waters”) unread.

I browsed the store a bit too, of course, and found a used copy of Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations, which I’ve never read. Years ago, this particular book store had almost every Acker book used and I didn’t pick any up, which I’ve regretted for awhile. So.

I also picked up Gil Orlovitz’s 1967 novel Milkbottle H, which I’d never heard of until I saw @PierreMenard tweet about it last month—

The book is 500+ pages. I found the first 10 utterly bewildering. You can read more about Milkbottle H here.

My copy of The Plains came in a few days later so my son and I went and picked it up (he got an Asterix comic). I read Part I this week and really got a strange thrill out of it. The Plains is a kind of speculative fiction with mythological touches. The slim novel reimagines an Australia the plainsmen of the interior define themselves (aesthetically, above all else) against the coastal areas of “Outer Australia.” The narrator is a (would-be) film director who wants to a make a movie called The Interior that will capture the essence of the plains (a task that is plainly impossible). The Plains is a very strange and I’m really digging it so far.

Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick (Book acquired 27 July 2018)

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I spent a week in Charleston, SC at the end of July. The city’s veneer of “historical charm” doesn’t quite cover over a past that it recognizes but seems not wholly reconciled to, but the grits were very good.

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I visited Blue Bicycle Books while I was there, where I was allowed to fondle a signed Faulkner with my unwashed hands. I picked up Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick in hardback there, despite not really liking Lightning Rods. I would’ve picked up her cult novel The Last Samurai instead, but they didn’t have it—and anyway, I’ve been reading mostly short stories and short novels (Murnane, Volodine, Melville) since getting through Eliot’s big fat novel Middlemarch last month.

Here’s publisher New Direction’s blurb—

For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even if facing a world of boomeranging counterfactuals, situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, and Rube Goldberg-like moving parts, where things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared” and “at 3 a.m. the circumstances seem to attenuate.” In various ways, each tale carries DeWitt’s signature poker-face lament regarding the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly “taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination.”

Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in

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Even though I haven’t gotten to Minor Angels yet, I went ahead and picked up Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven. Publisher Open Letter’s blurb:

Like with Antoine Volodine’s other works (Minor AngelsWe Monks & Soldiers), Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven takes place in a corrupted future where a small group of radical writers—those who practice “post-exoticism”—have been jailed by those in power and are slowly dying off. But before Lutz Bassmann, the last post-exoticist writer, passes away, journalists will try and pry out all the secrets of this powerful literary movement.

With its explanations of several key “post-exoticist” terms that appear in Volodine’s other books, Lesson Eleven provides a crucial entryway into one of the most ambitious literary projects of recent times: a project exploring the revolutionary power of literature.

Translated from the French by J. T. Mahany

You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Denis Johnson’s The Largesse of the Sea Maiden (Book acquired, 27 June 2018)

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I had no intention of getting another book when I went to the bookstore yesterday. Swear. I had a few boxes of books my uncle gave me, and I was going to trade most of them in. Even this Carl Hiaasen novel that had a cool Charles Burns cover:

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Anyway, I browsed the store a bit, killing half an hour before I had to pick my kids up, and I was tempted by a Richard Hughes’ novel called In Hazard simply because of its magnificent cover (here, I put two copies together—the back is on the left, the front is on the right):

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As an afterthought, I went through the new fiction section—something I hardly ever do—looking for Helen DeWitt’s new collection Some Trick, just to thumb through it. They didn’t have it, but they did have Denis Johnson’s posthumous collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden (in hardback and for half price). I ended up reading the first little vignette in the first story in the collection, and then remembered that I’d read the story (the title track) a few years ago in The New Yorker. In particular I remembered the vignette called “Accomplices,” a near-perfect two-paragraph punch that features a Mardsen Hartley painting and too much bourbon. Here it is:

“Accomplices”

by

Denis Johnson


Another silence comes to mind. A couple of years ago, Elaine and I had dinner at the home of Miller Thomas, formerly the head of my agency in Manhattan. Right—he and his wife, Francesca, ended up out here, too, but considerably later than Elaine and I—once my boss, now a San Diego retiree. We finished two bottles of wine with dinner, maybe three bottles. After dinner, we had brandy. Before dinner, we had cocktails. We didn’t know one another particularly well, and maybe we used the liquor to rush past that fact. After the brandy, I started drinking Scotch, and Miller drank bourbon, and, although the weather was warm enough that the central air-conditioner was running, he pronounced it a cold night and lit a fire in his fireplace. It took only a squirt of fluid and the pop of a match to get an armload of sticks crackling and blazing, and then he laid on a couple of large chunks that he said were good, seasoned oak. “The capitalist at his forge,” Francesca said.

At one point we were standing in the light of the flames, I and Miller Thomas, seeing how many books each man could balance on his out-flung arms, Elaine and Francesca loading them onto our hands in a test of equilibrium that both of us failed repeatedly. It became a test of strength. I don’t know who won. We called for more and more books, and our women piled them on until most of Miller’s library lay around us on the floor. He had a small Marsden Hartley canvas mounted above the mantel, a crazy, mostly blue landscape done in oil, and I said that perhaps that wasn’t the place for a painting like this one, so near the smoke and heat, such an expensive painting. And the painting was masterful, too, from what I could see of it by dim lamps and firelight, amid books scattered all over the floor. . . . Miller took offense. He said he’d paid for this masterpiece, he owned it, he could put it where it suited him. He moved very near the flames and took down the painting and turned to us, holding it before him, and declared that he could even, if he wanted, throw it in the fire and leave it there. “Is it art? Sure. But listen,” he said, “art doesn’t own it. My name ain’t Art.” He held the canvas flat like a tray, landscape up, and tempted the flames with it, thrusting it in and out. . . . And the strange thing is that I’d heard a nearly identical story about Miller Thomas and his beloved Hartley landscape some years before, about an evening very similar to this one, the drinks and wine and brandy and more drinks, the rowdy conversation, the scattering of books, and, finally, Miller thrusting this painting toward the flames and calling it his own property, and threatening to burn it. On that previous night, his guests had talked him down from the heights, and he’d hung the painting back in its place, but on our night—why?—none of us found a way to object as he added his property to the fuel and turned his back and walked away. A black spot appeared on the canvas and spread out in a sort of smoking puddle that gave rise to tiny flames. Miller sat in a chair across the living room, by the flickering window, and observed from that distance with a drink in his hand. Not a word, not a move, from any of us. The wooden frame popped marvellously in the silence while the great painting cooked away, first black and twisted, soon gray and fluttering, and then the fire had it all.

On Doing Nothing (Book acquired, 12 June 2018)

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Roman Muradov’s On Doing Nothing is new from Chronicle Books. Instead of the blurb, here’s the intro:

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Robert Coover/Barry Hannah/Antoine Volodine (Books acquired, 7 June 2018)

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I had ordered Antoine Volodine’s Minor Angels through my favorite bookstore, and it came in yesterday. It’s slim but expensive (ah! university presses!) and ate up all of my store credit, but still I picked up used copies of Robert Coover’s second novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. and Barry Hannah’s Boomerang b/w Never Die (some of the only Hannah I’ve yet to read). I was tempted also by the title and cover of Daniel Hoffman’s 1971 Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe—but I was not tempted enough to acquire it.

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Mario Benedetti’s The Truce (Book acquired, 2 June 2018)

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I’m excited about this one! I’ll admit I haven’t heard of Mario Benedetti before. The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé (first published in Uruguay 1960) is in English translation from Penguin by Harry Morales. More to come, but for now, Penguin’s blurb–

Forty-nine, with a kind face, no serious ailments (apart from varicose veins on his ankles), a good salary and three moody children, widowed accountant Martín Santomé is about to retire. He assumes he’ll take up gardening, or the guitar, or whatever retired people do. What he least expects is to fall passionately in love with his shy young employee Laura Avellaneda. As they embark upon an affair, happy and irresponsible, Martín begins to feel the weight of his quiet existence lift – until, out of nowhere, their joy is cut short.

The intimate, heartbreaking diary of an ordinary man who is reborn when he falls in love one final time, this beloved Latin American novel has been translated into twenty languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, and is now published in Penguin Classics for the first time.

Antoine Volodine’s Naming the Jungle (Book acquired 26 May 2018)

I keep meaning to write about the second half of Antoine Volodine’s Writers, which is the best contemporary book I’ve read this year. (I wrote about the first half though).

I had to use the internet to buy Naming the Jungle, and the cover is awful, but I’m eager to read more Volodine.

Publisher’s blurb:

Antoine Volodine has been hailed as one of the most innovative and accomplished writers in France today. Compared by critics to Franz Kafka and Lewis Carroll, Volodine weaves an unusual novel of political and psychological intrigue in a lush, exotic setting. The publication of Naming the Jungle marks his American debut and the first translation of his work into English.

Puesto Libertad could be any Latin American city torn by the strife of civil war. In this isolated capital buried in the jungle, the revolutionary secret police have started digging into Fabian Golpiez’s past. In order to avoid brutal torture and interrogation, he decides to feign madness. Led by a local shaman/psychiatrist in a bizarre talking cure, Golpiez must use indigenous names to prove both his innocence and his true Tupi Indian identity. To name is to conquer. He names the monkeys, the plants, and the insects all around him as he names his fear, his paranoia, and his pathologies.

A masterful storyteller, Volodine speaks to us about the slow and fatal agony of revolution in a haunting and intense novel, one of the most dazzling pieces of fiction to come out of France since the early novels of Robbe-Grillet and Duras.

Stanley Elkin/Flann O’Brien (Book acquired and book not acquired, 23 May 2018)

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I went to my favorite local bookstore today to pick up my daughter’s sixth-grade required reading list and to offload some books I’ll never read again. I have far too many tasteful trade paperbacks that I don’t need. I try to bring three or four in on each trip and only come out with one for me (books for the kids don’t count). I picked up a copy of Stanley Elkin’s Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers (1966) entirely accidentally. The book was misshelved, stacked somehow on a pile of “Miscellaneous MU-” titles (I was looking for any book by Gerald Murnane, knowing that there were none there). I couldn’t pass it up—the cover, I guess, the cheap Pop appeal of its massmarketishness, and also the fact that I’m imbibing short stories like wine lately. (Murnane, Coover, Volodine).

I also came across this lovely edition of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, but did not buy it, because I already own it. I love the book. The copy I have has an ugly-assed cover, unlike this beauty, which I hope some kid picks up and loses her mind over—-

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Antoine Volodine’s Writers (Book acquired, 5 May 2018)

I picked up Antoine Volodine’s Writers today.

I also looked at some pictures, including these–

Hob Broun’s Cardinal Numbers (Book acquired, 30 April 2018)

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I first heard of Hob Broun a few years ago from the literary critic David Winters, who is a fan of Broun’s work. I’ve had Broun on a list of writers I mean to read for a long time now (an actual physical list, by the way, which I keep in my wallet). However, I’ve yet to come across one of his books in a bookstore. Anyway so well—

The inaugural issue of the new literary magazine Egress has a feature on Broun, which reignited my interest in him. I’ve been emailing the editors of Egress, David Winters and Andrew Latimer, for an interview about Egress (which will post sometime in the next day or two), and David basically talked me into breaking down and buying the book online (I got it for five bucks). A snippet of our upcoming interview:

Biblioklept: I know David has been enthusiastic about Hob Broun’s writing for a few years. Broun is sort of a “writer’s writer’s writer,” if that makes sense. The first issue of Egress features a section titled “Remembering Hob Broun: 1950-1987”; in addition to remembrances from the novelist Sam Lipsyte and Kevin McMahon, who befriended Broun when they attended Reed College together in the late sixties, you include a full color selection from one of Broun’s journals. Can you describe some of the journal for readers, and talk a bit about how the Broun section came together? For readers unfamiliar with Broun, what’s the appeal?

David Winters: Broun is a ‘writer’s (writer’s) writer’ only in that he isn’t well-known–his work isn’t at all opaque or aloof. He published three books in his lifetime, the novels Odditorium (1983) and Inner Tube (1985), and the superb short story collection Cardinal Numbers (1988). While writing Inner Tube, Broun underwent emergency surgery to remove a spinal tumour. He was left paralysed from the neck down. Remarkably, he finished the novel–and wrote the stories in Cardinal Numbers–using a kind of writing-machine: an oral catheter (or ‘sip-and-puff device’) connected to a customised word processor, triggered by his breath whenever a letter flashed on the screen. This aspect of Broun’s life lends itself to mythologization: what better image of writerly dedication? At the same time, it risks obscuring what really matters: the work itself. I was delighted, then, when Kevin McMahon got in touch. Kevin’s essay only glances at Broun’s illness, giving us, instead, a vivid portrait of the man behind the myth. Best of all, Kevin sent us Broun’s personal journal. It’s an extraordinary artefact–a scrapbook of doctored magazine clippings and miniature, fragmentary narratives–unmistakably Brounian in its pulpy, screwball surreality. Broun’s journal is continuous with his fiction (Cardinal Numbers contains the manifesto-like statement, ‘modus operandi: montage, collage, bricolage’), but, unlike his fiction, it wasn’t created for public consumption. Not unlike the art of, say, Ray Johnson or Joseph Cornell, it gives us a glimpse of a private world, a game played for inscrutable reasons—what Don DeLillo calls “the pure game of making up”. Our celebration of Broun ends with a wonderful essay by Sam Lipsyte–a writer Andrew and I both revere–who captures his essence far better than either of us ever could.

Biblioklept: Which of Broun’s three books do you think is the best starting place for folks interested in his work after reading about him in Egress?

DWCardinal Numbers, without a doubtOpen Road recently reissued all three titles as e-books, but I’d recommend picking up the old Knopf hardbacks, which can be had for as little as a dollar. Another Broun novel–a previously unpublished manuscript–might be out in a year or two.

Rough Animals (Book acquired, 21 April 2018)

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A copy of Rae DelBianco’s novel, Rough Animals, arrived at Biblioklept World Headquarters yesterday. I read the first chapter, which has the protagonist getting shot on like, the second page. This is a fast-paced book so far, its plot propelled by prose clearly influenced by Cormac McCarthy and Denis Johnson.

Here is the blurb:

​Ever since their father’s untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their bulls lying dead in the field, Wyatt is hit in the arm by a hail of gunfire that takes four more cattle with it. The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child with a TEC-9 in her left hand and a worn shotgun in her right. They hold the girl captive, but she breaks loose overnight and heads south into the desert. With the dawning realization that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Wyatt feels he has no choice but to go after her and somehow find restitution for what’s been lost.

Wyatt’s decision sets him on an epic twelve-day odyssey through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself. As he winds his way down from the mountains of Box Elder to the mesas of Monument Valley and back, Wyatt is forced to look for the first time at who he is and what he’s capable of, and how those hard truths set him irrevocably apart from the one person he’s ever really known and loved. Steeped in a mythic, wildly alive language of its own, and gripping from the first gunshot to the last, Rough Animals is a tour de force from a powerful new voice.

Gerald Murnane’s Stream System (Book acquired, 5 April 2018)

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Four stories into Gerald Murnane’s Stream System and digging it a lot. I’ll do some kind of post about some of the stuff in here soon. For now, here’s FS&G’s blurb:

Never before available to readers in this hemisphere, these stories―originally published from 1985 to 2012―offer an irresistible compendium of the work of one of contemporary fiction’s greatest magicians.

While the Australian master Gerald Murnane’s reputation rests largely on his longer works of fiction, his short stories stand among the most brilliant and idiosyncratic uses of the form since Borges, Beckett, and Nabokov. Brutal, comic, obscene, and crystalline, Stream System runs from the haunting “Land Deal,” which imagines the colonization of Australia and the ultimate vengeance of its indigenous people as a series of nested dreams; to “Finger Web,” which tells a quietly terrifying, fractal tale of the scars of war and the roots of misogyny; to “The Interior of Gaaldine,” which finds its anxious protagonist stranded beyond the limits of fiction itself.

No one else writes like Murnane, and there are few other authors alive still capable of changing how―and why―we read.

Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles (Book acquired, 14 March 2018)

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A copy of Fran Leadon’s Broadway: A History of New York in Thirteen Miles arrived at Biblioklept World Headquarters last month, reminding me that I don’t read enough nonfiction. The book is out this month in hardback from W.W. Norton. Their blurb:

In the early seventeenth century, in a backwater Dutch colony, there was a wide, muddy cow path that the settlers called the Brede Wegh. As the street grew longer, houses and taverns began to spring up alongside it. What was once New Amsterdam became New York, and farmlands gradually gave way to department stores, theaters, hotels, and, finally, the perpetual traffic of the twentieth century’s Great White Way. From Bowling Green all the way up to Marble Hill, Broadway takes us on a mile-by-mile journey up America’s most vibrant and complex thoroughfare, through the history at the heart of Manhattan.

Today, Broadway almost feels inevitable, but over the past four hundred years there have been thousands who have tried to draw and erase its path. Following their footsteps, we learn why one side of the street was once considered more fashionable than the other; witness the construction of Trinity Church, the Flatiron Building, and the Ansonia Hotel; the burning of P. T. Barnum’s American Museum; and discover that Columbia University was built on the site of an insane asylum. Along the way we meet Alexander Hamilton, Emma Goldman, Edgar Allan Poe, John James Audubon, “Bill the Butcher” Poole, and the assorted real-estate speculators, impresarios, and politicians who helped turn Broadway into New York’s commercial and cultural spine.

Broadway traces the physical and social transformation of an avenue that has been both the “Path of Progress” and a “street of broken dreams,” home to both parades and riots, startling wealth and appalling destitution. Glamorous, complex, and sometimes troubling, the evolution of an oft-flooded dead end to a canyon of steel and glass is the story of American progress.