Manhattan Phoenix by Daniel S. Levy shows vividly how the Great Fire of 1835, which nearly leveled Manhattan also created the ashes from which the city was reborn.
In 1835, a merchant named Gabriel Disosway marveled at a great fire enveloping New York, commenting on how it "spread more and more vividly from the fiery arena, rendering every object, far and wide, minutely discernible-the lower bay and its Islands, with the shores of Long Island and New Jersey."
The fire Disosway witnessed devastated a large swath of lower Manhattan, clearing roughly the same number of acres as the World Trade Center bombing, Manhattan Phoenix explores the emergence of modern New York after it emerged from the devastating the fire of 1835-a catastrophe that revealed how
truly unprepared and haphazardly organized it was-to become a world-class city merely a quarter of a century later. The one led to other. New York effectively had to start over. Daniel Levy's book charts Manhattan's almost miraculous growth while interweaving the lives of various New Yorkers who
took part in the city's transformation. Some are well known, such as the land baron John Jacob Astor and Mayor Fernando Wood. Others less so, as with the African-American oysterman Thomas Downing and the Bowery Theatre impresario Thomas Hamblin. The book celebrates Fire Chief James Gulick who
battled the blaze, and celebrates the work of the architect Alexander Jackson Davis who built marble palaces for the rich. It chronicles the career of the merchant Alexander Stewart who constructed the first department store, follows the struggles of the abolitionist Arthur Tappan, and records of
the efforts of the engineer John Bloomfield Jervis who brought clean water into homes. And this resurgence owed so much to the visionaries, such as Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who designed Central Park, creating a refuge that it remains to this day.
Manhattan Phoenix reveals a city first in flames and then in flux but resolute in its determination to emerge as one of the world's greatest metropolises.