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The Colossus of New York

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,306 ratings  ·  327 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, 158 pages
Published October 12th 2004 by Anchor (first published October 21st 2003)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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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!
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.
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.
Gretchen Rubin
A dreamlike meditation on New York City. Beautiful.
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 and ha ...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!
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
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
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
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
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. ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-reads
What a beautiful love letter to an incredible city.
Tyler Jones
Sort of stream of consciousness, sort of poetry, sort of narrative....

Colson has the sharp eye and remembers the feelings and thoughts all of us have had but each believed was theirs and theirs alone.

Great reading for those who just love the visual made verbal - the thought made word.
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
More narrative poetry than essay, this books creatively encapsulates the minutiae of what life in NYC really feels like, whether you were born there or just lived there for a little while.
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
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
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
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.
In a nutshell, there's nothing like New York. ...more
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
Jan 02, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-owned
A short compilation of snapshots that together paint a portrait of New York City. It's almost like spoken word poetry, but not actually poetry and less obnoxious (most of the time). It's not terribly artsy, but in a few places it is lacking punctuation and there's some run-on sentences. So, fair warning. Published in 2003, I liked the little snippets of things pre-digital, like public telephones. Instead of the personal experiences of people in the city written in nonfiction essays, this is full ...more
Lisa Laureano
May 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book has a certain grace, even a certain beauty in its efforts to capture the interior lives of New Yorkers. If you've spent any time at all in the City you will immediately recognize the scenes Whitehead describes, and he does so lyrically. But the writing seems absolutely devoid of joy; hints of positive emotions are quickly doused by predictions of doom and disappointment. Whitehead's "City in Thirteen Parts" is intensely cynical about every aspect of life- work life, home life, even a t ...more
Feb 19, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thirteen brief chapters, published in 2003, describing the experience of living, surviving and just being in New York City. The book’s chapters are written in an improvisational, somewhat extemporaneous style, with sentences and paragraphs quickly jumping from idea to idea, thought to thought, scene to scene. Some of the words and phrasing are simply incredible. My favorite chapters were “Rain,” “Subway,” “Times Square,” and “Coney Island.”

The Goodreads description accurately notes that “White
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 16, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s impossible for me to review and rate this book in one overall item, because there are just so many elements to it. So here’s my broken-down assessment:

5 ⭐️ for the writing. Colson Whitehead has once again proven to me to be masterful, artistic, and poetic.
4 ⭐️ for my bucket-listed, most desired, so-desperate-I-can-taste-it, place in the world I want to visit (although, the city will feature again below)
3 ⭐️ go to my overall engagement and enjoyment of the content.
2 ⭐️ to only showing the n
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: bipoc-writing
Thirteen vignettes of New York and its crew of residents. Often bitter and cynical, Colson’s depiction of NY was tough to read. The writing focuses on the lost, the weary, the superficial and the gritty elements of the city.

The writer reads the people surrounding him but perhaps not with great humility or empathy. Peppered in the clipped writing are some careful observations though, be it on the arrivals in Port Authority, the work-weary subway travellers, the neighbourly envy on beaches and ro
While having never lived in the city I can’t imagine a book that better captures the essence of life in New York.

More broadly this book contains so many perfect sentences and thoughts that I was routinely stopped in my tracks. In this book Whitehead gets life, gets people, and by extension gets me.
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.
George Neville-Neil
Well wrought sentences most of which are hard to guess which makes the journey worth it. Picked up on a lark during pandemic overbuying of books this one was a nice slim find.
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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

Articles featuring this book

What do you write after your novel wins a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and is selected by Oprah for her book club? For Colson...
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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.” 65 likes
“You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.” 16 likes
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