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Time and Again by Jack Finney
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New York 1880 Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age
is an almost-ten-pound, 1100-page doorstop of a book by noted architect Robert A. M. Stern and two co-authors (with research assistance from some graduate students at the Columbia School of Architecture, one of whom was my daughter). It is an amazing work, the definitive study of the era in which New York became a world-class metropolis. With over 1,000 vintage photographs, you can open to any page and be blown away by the grandeur and vision of the architects and planners of the period from the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century. But monumental as it is in depicting an era, this book is nowhere near as much fun as visiting the New York City of 1882 in Jack Finney's “Time and Again.”

Published in 1970 and generally considered a time-travel classic, “Time and Again” has none of the sophistication of later examples of the genre. It's full of inconsistencies and loose ends and it isn't brilliantly written. The prose is no better than workmanlike and the characters lack depth. But when Simon Morley, a commercial artist in contemporary New York, walks out of the Dakota apartment building into a hushed, snow-covered Central Park in 1882 and notes with great specificity the tinkle of a woman's laughter as she passes in a horse-drawn sleigh, you willingly suspend disbelief and are right there with him.

Si has been recruited into a government project to prove the theory that the past isn't gone, that it can be accessed through intensive study and hypnosis. Other recruits are attempting to transport to Paris in the 15th century as Notre Dame is being built, to San Francisco at the time of the early 20th-century earthquake, and to other places and times. But Si is singularly successful and after his initial “trip” and debriefing, is asked to go back.

On his return, the leisurely pace picks up with some heavy-duty plotting: a mystery, a catastrophic event, a chase sequence and even a love interest as Si gets caught up in events and ignores instructions to affect nothing and only observe. But the real pleasure is in the detailed descriptive passages: Fifth Avenue lined with residential brownstones, horse-drawn streetcars, the “el,” the bonnets, the parlors, the pockmarked faces (before the smallpox vaccine), the city seen through the eyes of someone who knows what it will become almost a century later.

“Time and Again” is illustrated, presumably with sketches Si made on his travels. The illustrations pale in comparison to the photos in New York 1880 but they add a note of (faux) authenticity to the story. The action takes place over a few days in January 1882 when New York City was blanketed by snow. (How on earth did the women navigate in those dainty high-buttoned shoes? Oh, never mind.) Reading it in January 2014 as snow was burying everything in sight was a treat.
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Reading Progress

January 24, 2014 – Started Reading
January 24, 2014 – Shelved
February 13, 2014 – Finished Reading
February 16, 2014 – Shelved as: 2014

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Read this many years ago on a recommendation from a friend. Not my usual fare, but I loved it!


Abby Nancy wrote: "Read this many years ago on a recommendation from a friend. Not my usual fare, but I loved it!"

I could say the same!


message 3: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Terrific, vivid review, Abby!


Abby Barbara wrote: "Terrific, vivid review, Abby!"

Thanks, Barbara. Not great literature but great evocation of a time and place with plenty of plot to keep the pages turning. Fun!


message 5: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Abby, is your daughter still working for Bob Stern? My daughter has been with RAMSA for eight years. Small world!


Lewis Weinstein Excellent review ... LEW ... http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/


Abby Lewis wrote: "Excellent review ... LEW ... http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/"

Thanks, Lew. I know many people who count this book among their all-time favorites. For me, the writing doesn't rise to that level but it sure is an entertaining read.


Lewis Weinstein Abby wrote: "Lewis wrote: "Excellent review ... LEW ... http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/"

Thanks, Lew. I know many people who count this book among their all-time favorites. For me, the writing doesn't rise ..."


I was fascinated by this book, many years ago.


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