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City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan

(Old New York #1)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,692 ratings  ·  408 reviews
A sweeping epic of two families—one Dutch, one English—from the time when New Amsterdam was a raw and rowdy settlement, to the triumph of the Revolution, when New York became a new nation’s city of dreams.

In 1661, Lucas Turner, a barber surgeon, and his sister, Sally, an apothecary, stagger off a small wooden ship after eleven weeks at sea. Bound to each other by blood and
Paperback, 589 pages
Published June 18th 2002 by Simon Schuster (first published January 1st 2001)
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 ·  3,692 ratings  ·  408 reviews

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May 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Erin by: Amy Mills
This is a well written novel. My only complaint is that the author builds interest in certain of the characters' lives and then drops them without notice, moving the reader forward by 50 years or so. Actually, that also was the very thing that caused me to feel somewhat melancholy. The reality that I'm going to age, and yikes, die, is a little bit painful. The reality that my little boy is going to grow up and have children of his own someday is a lot painful! But there is no (happy) alternative ...more
Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This book was a massive undertaking, but I think it was worth the effort. It was well written and historically accurate, but dear Lord, was it ever disturbing. The book is the story of Manhattan back in the day before America was a country, up until we became one. The book is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. It was horrifying. The medical procedures that were performed were described in horrific gory detail that made me want to barf on several occasions. There are also stories of b ...more
Aug 27, 2016 rated it liked it
This book follows generations in New York and their ties to medicine it was kind of confusing at times I wasn't sure what the significance of the last chapter was but overall I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book. ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
City of Dreams is the saga of early Manhattan called Nieuw Amsterdam in the 1600’s. It is the tale of Turner family and all their drama. Lucas Turner a barber surgeon and Sally Turner an apothecary are brother and sister and arrive in the new world after 11 weeks at sea.

This book explores early life in New York and centers on medical procedures in detail and how they were performed in gruesome detail. It was to my amazement that these procedures where even done back then.
We learn how the people
Nov 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
I am sorry, as much as I love historical fiction, and as much as I LOVED Shadowbrook: A Novel of Love, War, and the Birth of America, I could not get into this book. While I appreciate the amount of research the author did into medical history of this time and treatment of slaves, the gore factor is WAY OVER THE TOP. Page after page after page, compounded with unappealing characters who even if one started to care, disappeared into another generation.

I gave up after 200 pages. I give the author
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time getting through this book, mainly because a.) I didn't like ANY of the characters, as they all seemed to be obnoxious, amoral, and given to seriously bad judgement, b.) there was too much awkward, seriously cringe-worthy sex, and c.) ditto gruesome surgery. It was well-researched, though, so I have to at least give her that; I did enjoy the slowly changing history of New York, but ultimately liked Rutherford's vignette approach better. ...more
Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a really engrossing historical novel about the early days of New York. The novel is multi-generational and dates from 1661 when New York was a Dutch colony and called Nieuw Amsterdam up to 1798 after the Revolutionary War. The novel focuses on a family of surgeons/barbers, physicians, and apothecaries. The surgeons were actually the ones that had the most useful medical knowledge including ways to cut into people to cure them. The physicians were actually trained in medical schools but ...more
Lorin Cary
Jun 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Cultural conservatives who yearn for the good old days will not like this book, because it's fairly accurate descriptions of life in New York from the 17th through the 18th century (until the end of the American Revolution) does not jibe with their peculiar notions. Lucas Turner and his sister Sally arrive in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1661, not long before the British assume control. And so starts a multi-generational novel. The importance of slavery in New York is evident from the fi ...more
The histories of New York City and early surgical practices are told through the stories of immigrant siblings and their descendants. The author has some things to say about slavery and colonialism as well. It's a very determined book.


My library due date came up when I was 330 pages into this book and I decided to turn it in for something else. My deciding factor was reading a sentence that had the words "heaving" and "bosoms" in it and then reading about how that very same woma
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
5.0 out of 5 stars - Great story of family secrets, retribution and survival

Loved this one -- the first in a series about colonial times in the early days of the USA. It features a family who are interested in furthering the science and art of medicine -- barbers, surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries. Wow, were those some really barbaric times! The characters were compelling and multi-layered and the saga details the interactions and fueds between families.I have read a bit of historical ficti
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was the first of Beverly Swerlings historical novels for me. Because it gives such good background about NYC - a very important part of my life - I gratefully took all of it in. Also the healing/surgeon/doctor lineage story. And the wildness of life on the frontier. The stories of the operations were rough but real. We are lucky is many ways to be alive in the US of A at this moment. I went on to Shadowbrook, very romantic and full of adventure as well as history I didn't know about in the ...more
Randi Reisfeld
Jan 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: NYC history buffs and those into sweeping family sagas
Recommended to Randi by: Mindy Eichler
I'm a sucker for all NYC history -- and this was well worth it! Recommended by brilliant cousin Mindy, it's number one in a trilogy--it earns the moniker, "sweeping generational saga," as it takes us, via two strong, fascinating fictional families, through the settling of "New Amsterdam" in the 1600s through the Revolutionary War. Who knew NYC made a fortune on the backs of slavery?? Who knew about surgeries without pain killers, and beginnings of pharmacies? Who knew Delancey Street was named a ...more
Aug 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings. I loved some of the historical things I learned, LOVED her details of medicine and herbal practitioners and loved some of her characters. I think she is overly ambitious. She starts to develop some great characters then jumps ahead 20 years without warning. Gets you into another generation then right when you figure out a bit about them she jumps ahead again. Yet she carries generational grudges through and I found the grudge/hate wasn't developed enough to pull it off why it sho ...more
Linda Harkins
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The author explores slavery, medical science, the early American bordello, and politics of the Ameican Revolution in this engaging novel set in New York City, originally the Dutch city of Nieuw Amsterdam. Among interesting historical trivia, Beverly Swerling gives us the origin of the term "grog," first used in the 1740s. This is the term applied by British sailors to their watered-down rum rations administerd by Admiral Edward Vernon, a naval officer always identified by his heavy grogram silk ...more
Pamela Reed
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For me, the perfect blend of history and family tales (with a little debauchery tied in). Loved it!
The detailing of the progression of medicine (surgeons vs. physicians vs. barbers) was very interesting...tied in with early New York...amazing accomplishment by this author...will certainly look for more from this author!
Shannon Zaremba
Nov 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
New've come a long way!

Loved following generations of a family through the defining of New York! The writing was captivating and haunting and the characters so visual and emotional. The history of surgery and medicine, along with the history of New York and the life style of those times was an incredible read. Makes me appreciate how far we've come.
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
City of Dreams is the first in Beverly Swerling’s series of historic novels about early Manhattan. The story begins in 1661 when the Turner siblings, Lucas and Sally, arrive in Nieuw Amsterdam with nothing to their name but their medical skills and no one to trust but each other. The novel’s timeline ends three generations later, at the close of the American Revolution.

Almost as soon as the Turners set foot on dry land we are given the measure of their intelligence and resourcefulness; Lucas is
Sarah Leclerc
Dec 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was so different than my normal reading and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was quite difficult to keep up with who was who and which generation they belonged to but the family tree at the beginning was quite helpful.

It was such a change of pace in the historical fiction genre. It was nice to get away from your typical WWII books. This might be the first book I read that touches on the Revolutionary War. It was also fascinating to read about the medical practices back then and how some of
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it
A good vacation book, 589 pages! A historical fiction of New York City and the field of medicine, which is a major topic throughout the book. Follows two major families, not particularly exciting, but it did keep me reading.
Beth Sponzilli
This is an epic historical fiction novel of the very beginnings of New York City from the 1640’s to about 1800. There are very brutal and lustful events through out, FYI, but great characters that you follow thru generations. I found it very interesting to see how certain aspects of the city came to be through time and war.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very long historical novel but very good. The beginnings of Manhattan and New York are explored through the lives of apothecaries, surgeons, and physicians and their practices. Amazing book.
Mar 18, 2011 rated it liked it
When I started City of Dreams I had such high expectations. This book had been on on my wish-list for the past 24 months. I sort of expected a magical and amazing reading experience, but unfortunately all I’m left with is mixed feelings. There were times - for a few paragraphs - I thought the story was superbly exciting, and then it felt back into a rather tedious narrative about diseases and lots and lots of primitive healing or (medieval) surgical procedures, amongst others. I think the main f ...more
Carolyn Fitzpatrick
This is one of those huge novels that follow a family through major historical events, in the style of a soap opera. It starts in the 1660s, with Lucas Turner and his sister coming over from England, by way of Holland, and settling in New Amsterdam. Their descendants move through conquest by England, Indian wars, slave uprisings, and the American Revolution, but these events take a back seat to all the backstabbing, conspiring, and pairing up that goes on. A few actually historical people make a ...more
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
I want to give this an extra half star but Good Reads doesn't allow that. I am a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly NYC. This book delivered and I am about to start the next in the 4 novels of this series. The writing is solid, the characters developed well and have a staying power. A few images were quite vivid and frightening but I checked and some of the barbarism mentioned actually occurred. This author did all her research and made earliest Nieuw Amsterdam and New York not only co ...more
Jan 05, 2010 rated it did not like it
I had to stop reading this one, so I give it one star. It had a lot of promise, it's about the beginnings of New York City, but it got a little too crass for my taste. I prefer to like the main characters when I'm reading a book, and found that I didn't care a hoot what happened to any of them, which helped me make my decision to nix this one. Not recommended to anyone who prefers reading a "cleaner" novel. ...more
James D.
Jan 19, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Any pre-med student that likes harlequin romance books
A complete dissapointment. The author takes a solid topic like the history of New York, and has to save herself by throwing in overabundant gore and gratuitous sex for what seems to be shock value.It is very well researched, but the embellishment on the inner conflicts of the characters personalities just makes the book seem like a historical novel for mature audiences only.
Jen Davis
Sep 26, 2015 rated it liked it
I was looking for something mindless set in old Manhattan, and that's what this was - fun to read, a good distraction etc. I wouldn't put it in the same group as Follett or McCullough, but that's ok. Wouldn't recommend to anyone, but I'm not sorry I read it. ...more
Nov 24, 2008 is currently reading it
Just started this but am really enjoying it so far. Susan recommended it. (Actually, it is her book.)
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book about the history of New York. This is the first out of four and covers the period 1661 to 1798.
Lauren Rickoff
Aug 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love historical fiction and this did not disappoint! Great book, well developed characters with an interesting story!
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Am I being too critical 5 55 Nov 23, 2012 07:33PM  

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I’m told that a number of critics who have said kind things about my books, have been less kind about the very brief bio on my book jackets. First, don’t blame Simon & Schuster; it’s my fault. Publishers use the data supplied by the author for this kind of thing, and I didn’t supply much. I guess because it seems that almost everything needs a long explanation. Which is probably me being egotistic ...more

Other books in the series

Old New York (4 books)
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  • City of Promise: A Novel of New York's Gilded Age (Old New York, #4)

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