The first book I went for was Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York, by Stephen Birmingham, originally published 1967 and republished by Open Road in 2015. One reason I picked it is that I'm always fascinated by my own heritage (typical American); another is that there's something about New York. It's not just the city itself, but where it stands in popular culture - especially early twentieth century pop culture, which I consume frequently and which contains a lot of references that I just don't get without study. But it's also the city! How it grew, who lived where, etc. We just sort of take it for granted as a booming, river-spanning metropolis. Apart from knowing that it was originally just a small community at the tip of Manhattan and at some point spread out in all directions, my knowledge of the city's history is sketchy.
|Portrait of Frieda Schiff (one of the people featured in Our Crowd), by Anders Zorn, 1894; MMA 1988.72 (OASC)|
After meeting Adolph Lewisohn, a New York businessman once commented, "I guess his brother Leonard must be the smart one." A few weeks later, he met Leonard Lewisohn. Following this meeting he said, "No, I guess Adolph is the smart one."The book isn't structured exactly the way I'd like. It follows a few of the biggest names - Auguste Belmont, the Seligmans, the Schiffs, the Loebs - individually through a couple of generations, which sometimes meant skipping backwards a few decades when going from one family to the next. There's also a lot of attention to fact and detail put into the descriptions of what the Seligmans and Schiffs et al. did in business, which is admirable on the one hand, but not really what I was reading for on the other. That did help, however, in understanding exactly how this or that panic that I'd heard of before happened.