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The Colossus of New York

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,561 ratings  ·  213 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 cap
Paperback, 176 pages
Published October 12th 2004 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2003)
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3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,561 ratings  ·  213 reviews

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Michael Finocchiaro
I read this book some years ago when a friend sent it to me. Its prose was fascinating with a mesmerising switching of narrators and a splendid and entrancing portrait of New York City. I felt it was well-written but perhaps a little too short. I was glad to learn yesterday that Mr. Whitehead just got the Pulitzer for 2017 for his book the Underground Railroad, so you can be sure this will be moving up on my TBR!
A hearty congrats to Colson Whitehead!
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.
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lit, non-fiction
Like reading a Godfrey Reggio movie, all it needed was a Philip Glass soundtrack.

I hate leaving Perth but I love to read hugely talented writers passionately explain what it is like to inhabit their own town and the world agrees that Colson Whitehead is a hugely talented writer and The Colossus of New York proves that he is a true New Yorker.

A wonderful reading experience.
Nov 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brian by: Will Byrnes
In this homage to his beloved city, Whitehead weaves 13 pieces of 13 different locales. It's penned in fragmented sentences that convey his message that this is a city of fragments - some fragments are subtle enough to evade your detection, others are sharp enough to cut and wound. And in the end no one can ever assemble the experiences into a whole as the landscape is constantly shifting, always changing - your favorite deli is now an H&M, your auto mechanic can no longer afford the rent an ...more
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
3+ Fun and biting freeform riffs about life in NYC. Port Authority, Rain, Subway, Central Park etc. A few of them really clicked. By the end, I felt like after a day in Times Square. Overloaded!
Jul 28, 2018 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
My introduction to Colson Whitehead was The Underground Railroad, and while I'm eager to read more of his fiction, I was curious about his non-fiction. This is a sprawling account of New York City life, constructed and written in rhythmic fragments that slice at the strange coupling of anonymity and intimacy that defines city life. He smoothly translates the mental work of living in the city while still building up the emotional experience of it. For all those fragmented sentences, Whitehead wri ...more
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Collosus of New York is so devastatingly good I cannot do it justice on this page. Colson Whitehead has written a love song to the city of New York in a way that maybe only the Metropolitan region will understand. His prose is so understatedly beautiful, it is almost lost in its simplicity of the feeling he confers to the reader. He has done a remarkable job of catching a sensibility about the city, but not the broad brush strokes everyone sees and knows, but the fine lines only the locals under ...more
Mientras Leo
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La ciudad es la gran protagonista
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sep 24, 2007 rated it did not like it

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.
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays
I don't know if two stars is really fair. I half listened to the audio version of this, and I do think it is a literary accomplishment...I just never became engaged with it. I think this is probably a work you should read and not listen to. It requires complete attention and an appreciation for a particular manic, almost free-form writing style, something I wasn't able to achieve during my morning commute listening sessions.

In high school, I remember reading "Los Angeles Notebook" by Joan Didion
Jennifer Spiegel
Feb 02, 2018 added it
Shelves: audio
I love this writer. I will read him again. His publishers got his manuscript in their hands, and were, like, "What do we DO? This guy writes like a mofo! He's unbelievable! There's absolutely no story whatsoever, not a character to speak of, and it's not memoir or really essay but it's maybe poetry. Do you think it's poetry? But, publisher friends, every single sentence is gold, PURE GOLD. Figurative language up the kazoo! I mean, sure, you're exhausted after ten minutes of reading. And the writ ...more
Shirleen R
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it

To my earlier, glowing impression of Whitehead writing style which emulates how a city dweller moves in, against, through and away from crowded spaces (human, building, otherwise -- I'll add one sticking point - the wandering point of view.

95 out of 100 times, Whitehead's distinctive style elicted awe and illumination. Pretend Whitehead's pen is a roving camera, and his swift yet graceful moves, though to thought, across genders, social classes, ethnicities, occupations, is electrifying.
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aty-challenge
If it were possible to address a 13-chaptered love letter to a city, this collection is it. If you've been to New York, you'll recognize your experiences on these pages and if you've never visited, consider this a description in the guidebook that accompanies your invitation.
Great read.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It can feel a little overdone at times, but so can New York. This is the guide to the city for the newly arrived, the longing-to-leave, the born, the bred, the transplant, the never-leaver. It is beauty, poetry, cacophony, humor, poignancy.

Love you, New York.
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is no other place like New York City. Huge thanks to Colson for such a beautiful journey through the streets of this magnificent city and the endless thoughts of its people.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
shamefully, i’ve never read any of whitehead’s writing before but damn, i loved this. so incredibly rich, & seemed to amplify my homesickness for a strange city which isn’t even my home.
Victor Galov
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A beautiful collection of essays, as much a piece proclaiming a sense of home in New York for Whitehead as much as it is a declaration of love for the English language. Every line in every essay of this book oozed with consideration, beautiful metaphors filled the pages, and any aspiring writer should look to this author for an example on beautiful prose.

An easy 3 hours read too, highly recommended.
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
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it

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
Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Apr 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 07, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Barry Stoch
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book, not quite what I expected but enjoyed for it's differences.

The writing was fascinating, very lyrical, prose like, with little snippets of words evoking once forgotten memories and timeless experiences of living in a large urban space.

Written with no apparent, at first glance, train of thought, just flashes of visual memories and observations for the reader to grab and examine and put back.

Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This beautifully written book is shelved under "essays," but really it should be prose poetry. Colton Whitehead's love of New York is apparent in every paragraph. He describes the city with its vibrancy, drama, shadows, beauty and ugliness incredibly vividly. It's a small book that you'll want to keep handy to get a shot of good writing.
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I'm the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. I've also written a book of essays about my home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction ac ...more
“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.” 50 likes
“You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.” 8 likes
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