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The Colossus of New York
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The Colossus of New York

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  809 ratings  ·  114 reviews
In a dazzlingly original work of nonfiction, the award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead re-creates the exuberance, the chaos, the promise, and the heartbreak of New York. Here is a literary love song that will entrance anyone who has lived in--or spent time--in the greatest of American cities.
A masterful evocation of the city that never sleeps, "The Colossus of New York"
Paperback, 176 pages
Published October 12th 2004 by Anchor Books (first published January 1st 2003)
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When I read a book, I underline lines I like. Here are all the lines I underlined, mashed together:

You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now. Somewhere in that fantastic, glorious mess was the address on the piece of paper. The only skyscrapers visible from your stroller were the legs of adults but you got to know the ground pretty well and started to wonder why some sidewalks sparkle at certain angles, and others don't. The city knows you bette
Will Byrnes
Sorry, read this one many years back and loved, loved, loved it. But it was long enough ago that I do not feel confident enough in my collander-strength memory to post an actual review.
Izetta Autumn
Colson Whitehead delivers yet another course in strong writing. The Colossus of New York is a love letter to New York city. Whitehead captures the ebb, flow, and character of JFK, rain in the city, and Times Square. The collection - a series of short pieces linked by gymnasticaly clever language and topic, to form a pre-twitter, twitter-styled novella. Though less fluid than the other writing I've read by Whitehead - the clipped sentences, point of view changes, and clever language, all togethe ...more

Sadly, Colson Whitehead is actually a pretty decent writer under all that choppy post-modernist crap (at least, I suspect). I'll try reading something else of his sometime, I guess, but this book was basically an occasion for aesthetic suffering.

I'd had this sitting on my shelf for five years or so, waiting to be read. I'm glad I finally pulled my finger out and gave it a whirl; Whitehead has managed to bottle the Big Apple in this slim volume.

Other reviewers give him crap for being a peacock - preening and artificial. But I think this misreads his intentions. I thought it more a reflection of the city itself - loud, self-inventing, chopping, changing, never quite staying the same. It feels more Beat-like than some of the Beats (a
Robert Beveridge
Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts (Doubleday, 2003)

When one encounters the name "Colson Whitehead," one is apt to think of an old Irish immigrant viewing the city through a jaundiced eye, bleary from another night of stumbling home in rush hour only to find he's locked himself out of his bachelor pad and can't get to the can of beans sitting on the counter seductively calling his name. Instead, what we're given is a young (younger than I am, anyway) born-and-ra
I really like Colson Whitehead; I didn't like this book much at all. Every NYC vignette employs the same stylistic tricks, and I found myself practically skimming through the last half. There's some poetic stuff in there, but the jumpy metaphors and too-short sentences keep it from blowing my mind in that heavier/culture-implosion way that Colson usually acheives.

I feel like most of these pieces could've been boiled down to sonnet-length or something. One-page prose poems maybe. Or I'm just not
If you've ever been to a poetry reading, you might recognize that tone that most people read in, not the "virtuous indignation" one, but the oen that's more like "deep, suave description of urban details with the last word of every sentence trailing off." This whole book is written in that tone. It's especially bad when you're listening to it on audio cd, because the narrator reads it, and he takes the book very, very seriously. Granted, I didn't listen to the whole thing, of course, but I did e ...more
If you have ever lived in NYC, this book will strike chords.
If you have never lived in NYC, this book will hint at the world.

I truly loved reading this. The craft of excellent word-choice is alive and well. The turns that 7-word sentences can take and reverse are brilliantly shown. The shifts in persepctive and perception are constnat without being jarring.

I can't really say enough about this one without going into some sort of swoon or writing an essay. I think I'll just choose to state that th
Timothy Neesam
Colossus of New York is a short book with an awful lot going on inside. A meditation on New York, the book is comprised of 13 chapters. Some chapters are devoted to geographical areas (Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Broadway) and others focus on aspects of the city (arrival, rush hour, rain). But Colossus isn't about living in, or visiting, New York. it's about the experience of living in an dense urban environment, whether it's Toronto, London, Bangkok or Mumbai. The book is written in an almos ...more
Beautifully written, a real feast of words. Impressionistic description of a visit to New York City. Answered one of the questions I have about living in such a densely populated place: what is it like to be around so many people? The insight found here is that there is competition for the use of space in public places. The exterior of buildings hold memories and there is constant change. Interesting.
This book doesn't live up to its good reviews. I found it contrived and pretentious. While it would have been a quick read, I didn't bother to finish it. It would have been too painful. From everything I've heard about Colson, he's supposed to be a great writer. Unfortunately, it doesn't come across in this particular book.
Apr 13, 2013 Natalie marked it as to-read
Shelves: owned-not-read
Got a copy of this from fellow Goodreadian Bryan Castaneda, who procured it from My copy has these neat Post-its from the author interspersed throughout detailing his writing and thought process. I really can't wait to read it.
It gets five stars just for the first essay. Not that the other ones aren't great - they are wonderful - but the first one so wonderfully encapsulates life in New York that it made me tear up.
The Joy of Booking
If you look at the tags, you’ll notice that this is – oddly – tagged as both fiction and non-fiction. I don’t have a poetry tag, but I feel like that could apply, too. This ode to New York City alternates between first, second and third person in a bizarrely sensible way, as if the book itself is your own stream of consciousness with a bit of omnipotence thrown in. For anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in New York City and enjoyed it, this book is a must-read – it’s like retracing ...more
Lynn Crothers
"Talking about New York City is a way of talking about the world."

If I was born/raised/living in NYC, I probably would be giving this a four- or five-star review. It's uniquely written—a book split up into short chapters on different locations and things that make up the city (JFK, Rain, Port Authority, Rush Hour, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.)—and has succinct but beautifully descriptive moments. I thought I could dig into it even though NYC is not technically part of my makeup, but unfortunately I fou
I think this smallish collection of bits and pieces of essays about New York was intentionally written in a jumpy kind of way - perfect for subway rides and New York city attention spans.

The great thing about The Colossus of New York is that it hits where it counts. Every bit is familiar - it captures the anxiety, joy, loneliness, and amazement of living in this great city. So many of the things I read in this little book have happened to me, or reflect conversations I've had with my family and
Ornithologists recognize these corporate cocks by their pinstripe plumage. What goes through their heads, this species of bird. That pair have the same tailor and when they run into each other feel a great relief. Patchwork and held together by slender threads. Rely on camouflage to keep you safe. So full of suit and briefcase envy that only a really good shoeshine is going to set him right again. Here comes Mr. Bespoke--all they have come to fear lies in his miraculous stitches. When discovered
Leigh Rogers
I really wanted to like this book. I love New York and I've always wanted to live there. I recognize that he is a brilliant writer and I can't wait to read The Intuitionist, but this just wasn't my cup of tea. I thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter, but the following chapters just weren't the same. Someone labelled it post-modernist, so I guess that means I'm not a lover of the post-modern. I do think that it is a good book for what it is.
Listened to the audiobook version of this with Whitehead reading it. I enjoyed his Zone One novel very much and own The Intuitionist to read later. I wasn't crazy about Colossus of New York, however. If I had read these as a series of articles spaced out over time I might have liked it more, but it often felt contrived and predictable ... It read like the NYC that one expects literary people to describe, like something that could have been written fifty years ago by any number of other writers. ...more
I taught this. It's a fast-paced take on what it feels like to be in New York City. Many of the details and sections are dead-on and wonderful, like the chapter on rain, which includes a sentence about the fastest way to heartbreak being to fall in love with your umbrella, and another sentence about walking out of a movie theater and seeing it rained and feeling like you missed something. In NYC there's always the sense of having missed something. I also loved the subway chapter, which includes ...more
James Cridland
A hard read, but worth it... This is an odd book. It's written in some kind of peculiar free-form writing style, with different sentences in the same paragraph switching from first person to third person, and just to confuse further switches fluidly from one person ("he") to another ("she") but you are either he or she, depending on whether... you know. Anyway, writing style aside, this is an interesting essay on life in modern-day New York. I read this on holiday in New York, and finished it wh ...more
This is a very specific kind of book for a very specific kind of audience. It's a serious of essays about the soul and magic of New York City. Every sentence is a dense, philosophical musing about New York. It was almost like poetry. There was no skimming or skipping over things--you had to savor each sentence, re-reading many of them.

So if you're not in love with New York, this book would have nothing for you, but I really enjoyed it. I'm visiting there again soon and had heard of this book and
Cynthia Archer
This is an amazing, literal interpretation of the scenes of NYC. The sections are like poetry thanks to the author's beautiful weaving of words. He tells the story of places and scenes in New York through the eyes of all kinds of people. Since I read some of this while in NYC, I could sense the reality of his words and how he elevates ordinary experiences into a harmony of the city. It is a song for the city that he obviously loves.
A must read for anyone who loves NYC and even for those who d
"Sei un newyorkese quando quello che c'era prima diventa più concreto di quello che c'è adesso. Cominci a costruire la tua New York privata la prima volta che la vedi."

Un repentino cambio di punti di vista-orchestrato come nel migliore dei montaggi-da una scrittura unica ed originale. Un tributo alla città-costruito ad arte-da frasi che meriterebbero tutte di essere citate.

"Ci sono otto milioni di nude città in questa città... si scontrano, battibeccano. La NewYork in cui vivi tu non è la mia, c
Forget this book if you want sentences to be formatted correctly and punctuated properly. The tone Whitehead creates is comforting, chaotic and wonderful. 13 essays about parts of New York…beautifully portrayed. The joys, the cruelties and the frustrations of New York City. I read this book right before traveling to New York City and it was a good appetizer. Beautiful writing. If you love New York City, it is a must read. Book #20 of my 2006 Book List, finished reading it on 4-4-06.
I like Whitehead's writing even though it's always a little challenging. How do you attempt to capture the energy of New York? E.B. White did it for the 1950's and now Whitehead does it for the 21st century. Mix the feeling of jazz, poetry, and non-fiction and you begin to come close to what Whitehead has written. These compact visions of New York are little works of art that capture the intricacies of the city from walking down Broadway to riding the subway. Good reading.
Whitehead is one of my favorite authors (Apex Hides the Hurt is one of my favorite ten books) but it would be nearly impossible for me to have enjoyed a book less. Sure, New York is a fine place to live. (I've enjoyed living there myself.) But it's not some magical place that transforms its inhabitants nor should it inspire such drippy rhapsodizing.
Charlie Whitney
Absolutely fantastic. New York is a very fickle place and anyone having lived here can easily attest to that fact. When you talk to a friend from out of town it is difficult to describe the subtleties of such a city. How can a person that talks so poorly of Coney Island hold such an affinity for it? Whitehead in beautiful prose nails it page and page again. As a transplanted New Yorker I cannot recommend this book enough.
If you love New York, and if you love creative writing (not the class or the genre, but writing that is creative), you’ll love this book. The book is basically a series of descriptions and feelings and word connections about various aspects of New York (the boroughs, Times Square, Central Park, NY in the rain, etc.). The prose ranges from jazz to dream. No real emotional depth to the stories, but writing that is simply enchanting.
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Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard College, he started working at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books, and music.

His first novel, The Intuitionist, concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and a winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Awa
More about Colson Whitehead...
Zone One The Intuitionist Sag Harbor John Henry Days Apex Hides the Hurt

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“You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ''It happened overnight.'' But of course it didn't. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can't remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people's other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.” 28 likes
“IF THEY THINK those two words New York will fix them, who are we to say otherwise.” 1 likes
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