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Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City
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Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  387 ratings  ·  52 reviews
On September 12, 1609, Henry Hudson first set eyes on the land that would become Manhattan. It's difficult for us to imagine what he saw, but for more than a decade, landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson has been working to do just that. Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City is the astounding result of those efforts, reconstructing, in words and images, the wild ...more
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published May 1st 2009 by Harry N. Abrams
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  387 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Yuki Shimmyo
I reallyreally wanted to be able to give this 5 stars. I give 5 stars for the 10 years of painstaking research, the amazing digitalized images of NYC as it would have looked the day Henry Hudson arrived 400 years ago, the old maps, botanical prints, inspiration and message. But Sanderson's text is dry and pedantic, and seems to be addressed to 8 year-olds who need the explanation that landscape is not just a bunch of shrubs to a "landscape ecologist" with a PhD such as he.

In the book THE WORLD
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Typical pigeon-and-beaver propaganda.
Jul 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: theme-1
I read this for the spatial modeling & GIS methods used for the Mannahatta project. In that regard, I was rewarded w/ rich detail & well-made, beautifully mapped, intensely researched work recreating the historic landscapes, hydrography, topography, habitats, soil types, & species distributions of Manhattan island in 1609. He describes the processes step-by-step of the models he wrote & the layers he overlaid, making his methods very applicable not just for his Mannahatta ...more
Garrett Cash
This not like anything I would typically read, I'm not a big earth-science guy. This book was fascinating though, and it made me want to read more scientific books that aren't slogs like the textbooks. Unfortunately the writer for the book wasn't the best (you can't expect someone to be a great writer AND scientist!). The section about the future of Manhattan made a lot of claims that seemed unnecessary and self-assured. The pictures were very interesting, and a lot of the things Sanderson says ...more
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
Just took a look at this book today in the library. Beautiful, thick pages and stunning full color photos. What a cool project! I love the side-by-side comparisons of Mannahatta with modern day Manhattan.
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyc-history
A beautiful edition with lush, thick pages and gorgeous photographs, illustrations and maps. This is a great companion to the Welikia Project ( that focuses on a few crucial historical moments for recreating this major natural history project. I'll use this alongside Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York in my Urban History course to further develop the environmental history component of the course. I'd like to use the British Headquarters map to work on ...more
Kate H
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. First, it's beautiful to look at. Second, I am so impressed by this project: documenting all the flora and fauna that would have existed on Manhattan on September 12, 1609 (Contact with the Dutch). Third, Sanderson's writing is poetic, but not flowery--does that make sense? Fourth, the book is helpful and hopeful. Rather than a "Life after People" that imagines a world without people as a state we might want to return to, Sanderson thinks about how we might make Manhattan ...more
Bob Ferrante
Oct 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

If you prefer your history interspersed with natural history; if you want to know as much (or more than) about what lies beneath the soil as what's on tv, you'll enjoy this fascinating journey.
Stephen Flanagan
Beautifully presented and written. A really beautiful book.
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cracked-open-nyc
Linda Gaines
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
The maps in this book are fantastic, and it would have been great to get more closeups of those maps.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-geography
Illustrations by Markley Boyer

Sanderson and Boyer turn detective to create a probabilistic time machine and show a plausible picture of what Manhattan could have looked like in 1609 when it was first seen by European eyes. While Boer's name is in smaller font on the cover, in reality he deserves at least equal billing because his photo-realistic overhead images of 1609 Mannahatta are spectacular enough to rate this a 5-star "What a classic!"

Sanderson's text is just detailed and scientific enough
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Eric Sanderson moved from California to work at the Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Park) and because of a British map created during the Revolutionary War, became fascinated with the idea of what Manhattan looked like before Henry Hudson arrived. This beautifully produced book should not intimidate seems very long, but it is actually profusely illustrated with images of long ago Mannahatta. The original island of streams and hills was where native Americans would come to hunt and fish ...more
Aug 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about what Manhattan looked like in 1609, with gorgeous illustrations. I found it to be a fast read, even though the text is a bit dry.

I did find the last chapter, about what Manhattan might look like in 2409, a little bit strange. Sanderson suggests abandoning subways in favor of streetcars as a form of mass transit without explaining why he thinks subways need to go. He also suggests a more "mixed use" metropolitan area, with farms returning to specific portions of Brooklyn,
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, september
Fascinating look at the changes in Manhattan over the past four hundred years. Having lived in the city, I love the history of how the city has changed, and I love to look at old maps of the city, fitting in the images of the way it was then with the way it is now.[return][return]From a natural history standpoint, this is a perfect example of that -- the renderings of how the island must have looked in 1609 and the descriptions of how the team that worked on the images came to make them are ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Mostly pictures, really interesting ones. This is a landscape ecologist's attempt to reconstruct what Manhattan island was like before Europeans arrived. He estimates that the island was occupied by humans for about 10,000 years before Hudson, but they had a much lighter footprint that the current inhabitants. Fascinating. I am starting to thing of myself as an island person.

Actually, having gone through most of it, I think it is worth looking though for the pictures, but the text is highly
Aug 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Norma & Garry Milton, Brian McCarthy
Shelves: history, non-fiction
A beautiful book to just look at - maps, pictures, computer generated views of New York in 1609, the year Henry Hudson sailed up the river. I was intrigued with the project to re-create Manhattan of 1609 and enjoyed reading about finding maps, tracing bird sightings, reading old accounts of hunting, etc. The book seems to be part of a tribute to the 400 year anniversary of the discovery of Manhattan and the parts that are paean to the city are pretty boring. But, the pictures and charts are more ...more
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Sanderson and Boyer wrote a beautiful book on the natural history of Manhattan, the ecological history, the interaction of pre-European "man" and the natural habitat Mannahatta, once was.
Into the heyday of the concrete city of this day and age, and a splendid view on the re-invention of the future agglomeration, especially it's turn towards ecology.
Or should I rephrase? Either the necessary turn, and a possible turn, of the city-machine, into the city-greenery. If only for the natural cooling
May 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
A marvelously inventive reconstruction of Manhattan Island on the eve of Henry Hudson's voyage up the river that bears his name in 1609. Using the latest techniques of digital cartography and the science of ecology, Sanderson lays out in graphic detail what the island was like 400 years ago. An added plus is his optimistic vision of a sustainable future that we can create in this place of abundance.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Absolutely stunning and lavishly produced work on the geographic history of Manhattan Island, from before Dutch contact through the evolution of the urban metropolis, and the effects on the surrounding ecology--oyster beds, the Hudson River, marshland, old cemeteries, storm drains, the importation of European trees, the spiritual life of the Lenape, passenger pigeons and sandbars. I wish I had been able to see the museum exhibit developed from this--you know how much I love topographical maps.
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fantastic pictures, reconstructing what Manhattan Island looked like when the Indians inhabited it and Europeans were just arriving. The are contrasted verso with pictures of today. We got this lovely book as a gift; it might be expensive for the library of someone who is not really interested in the history and ecology of New York City. I would love to see the author do similar views of other cities, say 12th Century London or Paris.
Jan 04, 2010 rated it liked it
After reading Two Years Before the Mast, I'd squint at the california coastline to block out buildings and highways, trying to imagine what life was like when San Diego was a dusty trader town and Los Angeles didn't have a crown of smog.

This book lets me do that with manhattan, but now I don't have to squint.
Jun 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Very well done. A little too much on flora and fauna for me but that's the author's mandate for such a project. Nice historic review of the first landings of Henry Hudson, et al; the world before them; and the changes hence. Still, sad to look at the exquisite renderings and ponder deeply what was, what is and the losses of the Native Americans. Highly recommended.
Dec 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Nice coffee table book for New Yorkers, but it was somehow unsatisfying. It feels like a guide to how a data set was assembled, with example figures, but sans the data. This would be a perfect digital book: something that could hybridize the information and images from the book with the website interface here:
Feb 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm not really clear why, on a search of 'Manahatta' this is the _9th_ book on the list (and "Chasing Harry Winston" is the first), but whatever goodreads...

This is a massive book - but with 150 pages of appendices and thick paper for the pages, not to mention an abundance of illustrations, it's also a quick read, and a beautiful book to enjoy.
Sep 05, 2009 rated it liked it
This was an incredible undertaking, to recreate a detailed map of the natural world on Manhattan at the time the Dutch arrived. The book was fun to look through, but too dry to read word-for-word. I recommend taking a look at the website: and clicking on explore to interact with the map as well.
Feb 27, 2010 is currently reading it
A tour-de-force; vision of past and future; astonishing maps and eye-popping photographs.Reminds me of Whitehead's Boston, A Topographic History but on a much larger, less parochial scale as befits its subject.
Jul 28, 2011 added it
Weighing-in at 3.8 pounds, this doorstop sits on the high-end of the "curl-up with a good book" scale. Fortunately, the workout was worth it. Whether you are interested in ecology or just want to know a little more about a favorite place, this is a book for you.
Patricia Kerster
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and incredibly-researched history of the island of Manhattan, and how it looked and worked 400 years ago. Wonderful current pictures next to renditions of what the island looked like in 1609.
Stephen Hren
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Interesting for those who've spent some time in the city. Thought-provoking for folks like myself who think about our interactions with nature, and especially as we live together in the close quarters of urban environments.
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