Jan Morris’s exuberant and witty love letter to the Manhattan of 1945 effortlessly evokes a time when it was ‘the most hopeful city on earth’.
In 1945, Manhattan was poised on the brink of a glittering future. Standing at its pinnacle of cultural and economic power, it looked set to become ‘the supreme city of the Western world’ – in stark contrast to London, Paris and much of the rest of Europe, where the terrible consequences of war were still very much apparent.
Travel writer Jan Morris opens her account of New York’s golden age with a dazzling snapshot of the city in a particularly ebullient mood: the Second World War is all but over and the Queen Mary is bringing home thousands of victorious American GIs. Sailing into New York Bay, they are ‘welcomed like a promise of good things’ by a rapturous, flag-waving crowd. After a period of uncertainty the future finally looks bright, and the Manhattan of 1945 is a city at its pinnacle of cultural and economic power, full of people ‘to whom nothing is impossible’. All of which was in stark contrast to London, Paris and much of the rest of the world, where the terrible consequences of war were still very much apparent.
From there Morris whisks the reader on a street-level tour of a city in a time when it was at its most romantic, go-getting, creative, innovative and sleazy. She invites the reader to ‘live it up for a day in Manhattan’, touring Wall Street, Harlem, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and more, taking in the sights and smells and sounds that are uniquely New York. Along the way Morris reveals the fascinating characters that populated this town of all towns; figures like Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor who read comics over the radio when the newspapers went on strike; eccentrics like Weegee, the photographer who claimed to have psychic premonitions about crimes and fires; and even the infamous New York cab drivers with their worldly wisdom.
Morris first visited the city in 1953 and has continued to visit throughout her life. Manhattan ’45, filled with fascinating details and footnotes, shines with Morris’s fondness for the city, and with each visit to McSorley’s Old Ale House, Hell’s Kitchen or the frantic, rattling subway, the exuberant character of Manhattan grows clearer on the page. The author’s affectionate but unsentimental prose not only reveals the inner life of a remarkable city, it transports the reader back to a time when ‘the river sparkled and everyone wore hats’.
Manhattan ’45 features 12 pages of atmospheric black and white plates, including photography from acclaimed American photographers such as Andreas Feininger and the aforementioned Weegee. At the author’s request, this edition is prefaced by the Walt Whitman poem ‘Mannahatta’.
‘A bitter-sweet love poem to New York … not only should you have been there, but you are’
Jan Morris is a historian and travel writer who first made her name
as a journalist, famously as the Times correspondent accompanying
the British Mount Everest expedition in 1953. She has published
some forty books, including Coronation Everest (1958), Venice (1960),
Pax Britannica (1968), Heaven’s Command (1973), Conundrum (1974),
Farewell the Trumpets (1978), The Venetian Empire (1980), Trieste and the Meaning
of Nowhere (2001), and a novel, Last Letters from Hav (1985), which
was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Click here to see our edition of The Venetian Empire
Please sign in to your account to leave a review for Manhattan '45.