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Downtown: My Manhattan

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,281 ratings  ·  170 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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Back Bay Books (first published January 1st 2004)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,281 ratings  ·  170 reviews

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Bobby Underwood
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
While it’s true that Pete Hamill’s Downtown is a love letter to New York, and Manhattan specifically, and it starts off charmingly enough, it quickly becomes unfocused. Downtown meanders from one piece of history to the next on a whim, until your eyes glaze over because it’s so dull and entrenched in a pattern. In essence, the problem for this reader with the book is that it is like picking up a newspaper, and discovering it to be one long, rambling column on the same subject.

Downtown turned out
May 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I am consuming this lovely little book in perhaps the best way possible, listening to the author read it (into one ear) as I stroll casually around the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan. To walk the streets of this city guided by a well-informed, loquacious native while at the same time enjoying that blessed New York anonymity: just heavenly.
Laurie Thompson
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 02, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Maureen Lang
Nov 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Eden's Eve '63
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-heart-ny
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
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is part memoir and part history of downtown NYC from the 1700s to present day. It delves into architecture, city planning, culture and characters through the various incarnations of the city as only a consummate NYC journalist can.
Raymond Hickey
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun Read while learning Something !

Second time around for this one. Worth every minute probably better the third time. Hitch your wagon to this one.
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
The early histories of NYC are interesting but the chapters on the 70's through 90's (the time he covered the city with the Post) are incredibly compelling.
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
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 the ...more
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it
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!
Jill Hutchinson
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
If you are a fan of New York City, you will enjoy this love letter to the Manhattan downtown by the author/journalist who has lived there most of his life. He mixes his experiences with the history of places in the "downtown"....those that are extant and those which have been lost through progress. Its a fun read but somehow sad to realize the wonderful buildings that no longer grace the area.
May 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
The book was poorly organized, so hard to follow. What I will remember is how several horrible areas of New York were cleaned-up and completely transformed from being dangerous places full of violence, gangs, and drugs to being parks, etc. It really gives you hope in these crazy times!
Aug 17, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Loved this book and wished I had read it before I visited NYC. To think I visited the silly bull in Wall Street and was not even aware of the beautiful Cunard building in the background. I'm now hunting down his other books and determined to get back to New York for a proper visit.
May 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
Sadly, works neither as a history nor as a memoir. It's not enough of either. I like the writing style, but found myself skimming.
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Pete Hamill is an amazing writer, but this one is meant for someone that lives and can appreciate NYC.
Dave Courtney
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Pete Hamill is a journalist and a writer. Three things are certain about his own personal history. His memoir informs us of his long standing journey as a drinker, something that speaks in to the sort of reflective nature of "Downtown's" approach to historical and experiential narrative. Secondly, most of his work is in the area of fiction, affording him a certain penchant for storytelling that also impacts his "downtown", not to mention his approach to journalism in general. Third, Pete Hamill ...more
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Hamill manages to at once both educate us and reaffirm that we, the average person, in fact know very little about the far-reaching, ever-changing, and important history of Manhattan. Even though the book is lengthy, he frames the city quite succinctly and eloquently through his own experiences as a Downtown New Yorker.

For the tourist or casual visitor, it's hard to imagine New York as anything but how it is experienced in that moment for them. But the streets are old, and the city has been con
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a resident and a reporter, Hamill gives us an intimate look at the city that has been his mostly life-long home. Blending memoir with history, he peels back the layers of the city to show its importance in every age-- going back to the earliest Dutch settlements. His stories are varied as he tells of the city's lowest of points of drugs and crime to its heights as it refuses to be kowtowed by the events of September 11th, but all of the tales he tells are threaded with theme of nostalgia. It ...more
Kyle Hadley
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think if I was in a different space, one where I could have focused so much more on the words being spoken, I might have given this is 5 star review. It is certainly a loving tribute to the Great City in the World. Lots of personal anecdotes punctuate a thorough history of how Manhattan came to be Manhattan, and why it means so much to the author. Hamill has a gruff but clear voice and the romanticism he feels for his home town oozes off the delicately chosen words. There is a hard-boiled aspe ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it liked it
The title indicates this will be a collection of stories grouped only by geography, so that comes as no surprise. He writes well though, and presents the history of the city in easily digestible bits. I'd forgotten how bad crime was before Chief Bratton and Comstat came along. Having watched "The Deuce" on HBO, I was interested in his descriptions of the decline of 42nd street in particular. Seems he saw more than his share of famous people walking by. Allen Ginsberg and Duke Ellington come to m ...more
This is a tough one. I liked the book while recognizing it truly is a bit of a mishmash of memoir, history, travel guide, and whatever else Hamill felt like including. I think I liked it mostly because I love New York. He does spend time noting notable buildings, as it were, and there is plenty about the role and importance of immigrants in the life of the great city. He must have been psychic regarding the need for that one. I am reluctant to totally recommend it because in parts I just wanted ...more
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved the entwined historical, geographical, and personal stories found within "My Manhattan." What a delight. This was my first Pete Hamill book, and it certainly will not be my last. Normally, I prefer reading versus listening to books, but I purposely chose to hear Pete Hamill read his own work. I could listen to him all day and never grow tired or bored. I only wish he would record more audio books. Thanks Pete for sharing your memories with us.
Jonathan Tennis
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read Hamill’s memoir about his drinking days and thought it was a little slow for my taste. I would not have picked up another book by him except I love a good NY story. And this one does not disappoint. A New Yorker telling the tale of New York as only a New Yorker can – quick paced and quick witted, the history of the places he passes, works, eats on a normal daily, weekly, monthly basis are amazing. Loved this book. Could not put it down. Highly recommend.
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Pete Hamill was 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 ...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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