Downtown: My Manhattan
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Downtown: My Manhattan

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  664 ratings  ·  103 reviews
In Downtown, Hamill leads us on an unforgettable journey through the city he loves, from the island's southern tip to 42nd Street, combining a moving memoir of his days and nights in New York with a passionate history of its most enduring places and people. From the Battery's traces of the early port to Washington Square's ghosts of executed convicts and well-heeled Knicke...more
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published (first published December 1st 2004)
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Lets just say that this book may have been single-handedly responsible with my fascination with the city of NY and at least partially, if not altogether, responsible for my moving here. I believe this memoir was written after Hamill got 'on the wagon'. I mention this because a lot of critics seem to believe his, and many other writers' best works, come during their hard-drinking days when all they seemed to have where a bottle and a notebook and pen in some dingy, dimly lit room in which to spil...more
The reader might get the feel that Hamill was present for the Island's first immigrant arrivals and continues on to the present. It's like listening to a monologue he might be having as he walks the streets with a friend, pointing out various landmarks.

He picks out certain parts of Manhattan and tells not only of its history but about the people whose lives played important roles in the making and constant change in this district. He tells of many, many famous people including Jimi Hendrix and...more
Maureen Lang
I don't usually recommend the non-fiction research books that I use to collect background information on whatever work-in-progress I have going on, mainly because I usually don't read them cover-to-cover. I often search the Table of Contents and/or the Index to read the sections pertinent to my research needs. This book, however, was so engaging in its historical information regarding Manhattan that I couldn't put it down. Mr. Hamil has a very readable style, and his choice of historical detail...more
Laurie Thompson
Anyone who loves New York City, really loves it, absolutely MUST read this book--part history, part memoir, and totally entertaining de facto guidebook. No, NYC isn't what it 'used to be,' but as Hamill fascinatingly illuminates, maybe it never was; it's always changing, and it's always been changing, and someone has always been lamenting the loss of something. All the history is there, if you know how to access it. What a history, and what a culture. I can never wait to get back there, and on m...more
I tend to shy away from history books simply because I don't typically learn from repeat of dates, times, people or locations. They seem to all run together creating a massive mess of nothingness in my brain. It certainly was not the case with Downtown My Manhattan . Pete Hamill brought New York City to life in his writing of this book. A true love of the city that mirrors my own. A thousand pictures painted by the way he describes the creation of New York City, first as New Amsterdam and then l...more
I'm a big fan of NYC books, so am surprised I missed this one, given Amazon recommendations etc. I'm glad I came across it eventually, though!

Hamill, born in 1935, grew up in Brooklyn, both his parents having come originally from Belfast, but the book is about Downtown Manhattan-his downtown anyway, as his definition veers slightly from the accepted city zoning. However, having 'paid rent' for most of his adult life in various 'downtown' locations, Hamill is well qualified to talk of life on the...more
I am such a sucker for love letters to New York City. I think that in some way it makes me feel more like a New Yorker when I can read these books and decode them on a personal level. I was attracted to the book because I work in lower Manhattan on a project that will necessarily permanently change downtown. I appreciate opportunities to place this project in the historical conversation and much commented on changing nature of the city. I also appreciate being able to bust out with fun facts abo...more

Pete Hamill knows and loves NYC, and in Downtown: My Manhattan, where the subtitle is important, he focuses on the area most nostalgic for him, more or less from 42nd Street south, but with some good writing about upper Broadway in the days of the Thalia movie theater. His writing is perhaps too dramatic and sentimental for some readers, but he's a popular newspaper writer, and the quantity of information and anecdotes makes it quite all right.

He draws a distinction between nostalgia and sentime...more
I liked this book a lot because it goes through - street by street - the evolution of NYC. I read this book, and I am taking it with me during our next trip so that I can take it to neighborhood by borough :) to really walk through the progression. I LOVED the story of the first sky scraper in NYC. GREAT. I wish I would have known the builders - they sound fun!
An interesting mix of memoir, history, and critique about Manhattan, an area I know little of. Hamill is a good writer, though a bit repetitive (he should have just called the book "New York alloy"). Lots of insights, though the main theme is change.
Garrett Cash
Apparently Pete Hamill was using a "fill in the blank" formula for this book over and over again. I think it looked something like this.

As I was taking my weekly walk through [insert street here] I saw the [insert building here] which reminded me of [insert famous person here]. [Insert long, rambling history of building and people which leaves much to be desired and requires one to look up the missed information on the internet]. Across the street is where [insert another place] was, but its be...more
When I was a kid there was a headline in the newspaper that read "Ford to city - Drop Dead". This was in the bad old days of the early 1970's when NYC was on the ropes financially. Diminutive Abe Beame was Mayor and they were seeking federal funds to bail out the city. It was a rotten time financially for everyone with inflation rising and job rates down. But things got better and NYC survived - and came back stronger than ever!

An historical essay that reads like a love note to Pete Hamill's be...more
Read this book twice.

So here we have Pete Hamill, a born-and-raised New Yorker, giving essentially a walking tour, sort of, of Manhattan starting at lower Broadway in Battery Park and moving north along Broadway to Times Square, pointing out interesting tidbits as we pass them. Fascinating to learn history this way—not encyclopedic, comprehensive, and dry—just what matters to this fellow sitting next to you at the bar, the book has that feel. [Incidentally, Hamill has an amazing life story, read...more
Emily Schatz
Beautiful book. Often a little rambling, the author sometimes indulges in long lists of celebrity sightings that enhance the ambiance for a time but then become a mannerism. But he knows New York, its past, and its very eccentric people, and he captures its spirit by weaving its history in with his own. I would have given the book three stars except for the penultimate chapter on the 1970s and the decline of Times Square. Hamill is able to describe a scandal of lawlessness and destitution with i...more
Linda Ragusano
I'm an NYC history buff so this was a fascinating read for me. Loved the stories and explanations of how some places got their names and certain city traditions started. I'd love to sit down and have a drink with Pete Hamill...though I suspect his drink of choice these days might be coffee.
Pete Hamill is a newspaperman, and it seems to me that this book is a bit shallow as a result. He's very readable, but just a little superficial for my taste. Of course he admits right away, even in the title, that this will be just one person's take on the city, and in fact his knowledge of downtown people and places is fantastic. He gets into a little history, both of his own family and the general population that settled the area, from the original Dutch on down to the present. Also gets into...more
In all of the reminiscences and personal history, parts of this book felt a bit self-indulgent. I would not have enjoyed it if I hadn't lived in New York City.
But I did live in New York City for a time, and I love the histories of places I've lived. I liked the unique bits of history for different regions of the city- some recent, some a bit more ancient. Many of the obvious bits are avoided in favor of lesser-known tidbits. It's a personal history, but it's also a personable history, and for th...more
I should have read this before traveling to Manhattan earlier this year. Or maybe made arrangements to have Pete Hamill guide me around the city! A great read, unbelievably detailed and informative. I really enjoyed the coda, in which he touches a bit upon Uptown and Harlem. As he points out, while he loves Uptown and particularly Harlem, he never really grew to "know" it, as one can only truly know a neighborhood by living there. It was a great way of summarizing just how and why he is so passi...more
Sara  Liebman
Pete Hamill is one of my favorite writers because whether he's writing fiction or nonfiction, everything he writes is so richly textured with details, you feel as if you were there with him or his characters. His love for New York City is palpable in this book, something that has defined him as much as his work on newspapers or his Irish heritage (both of which he discusses in this work).

I found his discussion of Union Square in the aftermath of 9/11 particularly poignant and his accounts of th...more
I can't get enough of this book. It makes me want to walk around New York and actually look up, down and all around -- just like a tourist, but one loaded with the historical New York of tap, the farmlands that became the grid of New York, publishers' row, the el, Bowery, Broadway, Stanford White, Times Square, and how the word "hooker" came to me. What this book does is not only give a depth and back story of New York but endear the reader to appreciate history in general. It makes me want to j...more
Apr 17, 2007 Laurie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: New York folk or people who love history
I LOVE this book. Have yet to buy it, but oh yes, I WILL buy it. The historical facts mixed with the author's anecdotes really make everything come to life. It's interesting to know where some of the places referenced in the book are located and to learn so much about these places that you never knew. Having some knowledge of the layout of New York is helpful. I would recommend this book, especially for those wanting to explore the city. It's a great little non-touristy tourist book, if you choo...more
A good book if you grew up in the TriState area. (if you have to ask what the TriState area is, don't ask).
I like pretty much everything this author has written, especially "Forever", and read this book for a couples book group. It was well written and I felt like I was walking along the streets of New York City with him. I grew up in Downtown Manhattan and it was nice to stroll along these streets again as well as learn some things about "Downtown" that I did not know. Next book of his that I want to read is another non-fiction by him - the one with Drinking in the title, his bio.
Richard Sutton
NYC is a bunch of small neighborhoods all stuck together into an exuberant mix. If there is anyone better qualified to write passionately about Lower Manhattan than Pete Hamill, I have never heard of them. He is a master storyteller whose scholarship in this small book is extraordinary. If you ever trod those streets or would like to, this should be a must-read.
Nov 17, 2008 Teri rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Those who love New York City
I loved this book. So much interesting information mixed in with personal experiences and thoughts. I can't wait to bring it on my next trip to New York and see some of the amazing things he describes. I am now very interested in the people who were so integral to the creation of New York. All of the immigrants, architects, newspaper people, etc. Fascinating read. Hamill is a great writer.

I read most of it on the trains in New York. That was a fun experience.
Hamill has a really great style and is quite the story-teller. It was a fascinating read and I liked getting to know "Downtown" Manhattan through his eyes and experiences but also from a historical perspective, from the colonial and pre-colonial age. I also loved his line about the work of the NYPL, but someone should have been a better fact checker and placed the Schomburg Center on the right street...135th rather than 125th! Good book.
Sleepless, I just reread Hamill's definition of the difference between nostalgia and sentimentality. He warns: "you can't be nostalgic about a lie." I wonder. Do we dream about a past we never truly experienced? Hamill calls that "sentimentality", which he sneers at, but I wonder.

If you love Manhattan, I recommend the tome to you. I read it years ago and here I am, rediscovering an important lesson.

But I wonder...
Deb Jackson
This is a great "history" of NYC/Manhattan. Hamill gives a detailed and interesting history of all. As always greatly written, although at times a bit to much history for me. There were some very interesting parts and in true Hammill fashion, expressed well. All in all another great book by Pete Hamill highly recommended.. just a bit slower, unless you are a real history buff or interested fully in Manhattan history!
Carrie Shaurette
I enjoyed Pete Hamill's nostalgic trip through NYC history. He does meander quite a bit though, so I'm not sure there would be much interest here for someone that hasn't lived in NYC.
Jes Kast-Keat
I lived in a New York and this book brought me back to each street, building and block that I encountered. Pete Hamill does an excellent job at capturing the history of Downtown to modern day life. I feel more connected to the city after reading this book now that I know who John Jacob Astor is (Astor Place) and what the Bowling Green was originally used for. Great read, organized, and written with heart.
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Pete Hamill is a novelist, essayist and journalist whose career has endured for more than forty years. He was born in Brooklyn, N. Y. in 1935, the oldest of seven children of immigrants from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He attended Catholic schools as a child. He left school at 16 to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a sheetmetal worker, and then went on to the United States Navy. While serving in t...more
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"The wanderer in Manhattan must go forth with a certain innocence, because New York is best seen with innocent eyes. It doesn't matter if you are younger or old. Reading our rich history makes the experience more layered, but it is not a substitute for walking the streets themselves. For old-timer or newcomer, it is essential to absorb the city as it is now in order to shape your own nostalgias.
That's why I always urge the newcomer to surrender to the city's magic. Forget the irritations and the occasional rudeness; they bother New Yorkers too. Instead, go down to the North River and the benches that run along the west side of Battery Park City. Watch the tides or the blocks of ice in winter; they have existed since the time when the island was empty of man. Gaze at the boats. Look across the water at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, the place to which so many of the New York tribe came in order to truly live. Learn the tale of our tribe, because it's your tribe too, no matter where you were born. Listen to its music and its legends. Gaze at its ruins and monuments. Walk its sidewalks and run fingers upon the stone and bricks and steel of our right-angled streets. Breathe the air of the river breeze."
“A half-century later, Mark Twain would say that the gold rush drastically changed the American character, ending the tradition of patient apprenticeships, the gradual mastery of self, talent, and money. Gold created the get-rich-quick mentality that has been with us ever since, most recently during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s.” 1 likes
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