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The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleansby Lawrence N. Powell
Synopses & Reviews
This is the story of a city that shouldn't exist. In the seventeenth century, what is now America's most beguiling metropolis was nothing more than a swamp: prone to flooding, infested with snakes, battered by hurricanes. But through the intense imperial rivalries of Spain, France, and England, and the ambitious, entrepreneurial merchants and settlers from four continents who risked their lives to succeed in colonial America, this unpromising site became a crossroads for the whole Atlantic world.
Lawrence N. Powell, a decades-long resident and observer of New Orleans, gives us the full sweep of the city's history from its founding through Louisiana statehood in 1812. We see the Crescent City evolve from a French village, to an African market town, to a Spanish fortress, and finally to an Anglo-American center of trade and commerce. We hear and feel the mix of peoples, religions, and languages from four continents that make the place electric-and always on the verge of unraveling. The Accidental City is the story of land-jobbing schemes, stock market crashes, and nonstop squabbles over status, power, and position, with enough rogues, smugglers, and self-fashioners to fill a picaresque novel.
Powell's tale underscores the fluidity and contingency of the past, revealing a place where people made their own history. This is a city, and a history, marked by challenges and perpetual shifts in shape and direction, like the sinuous river on which it is perched.
"This rich story of the emergence of the Crescent City from its unlikely floodplain site is the best history of early New Orleans ever written. Despite Powell's claim that the Big Easy was an accidental, improvised city, in this respect it was not unlike many other human habitations. But from its origins in the late 17th century, New Orleans was unlike all others on this continent in its mixed population; its distinctive overlay of French, Spanish, African, and American peoples, languages, and ways; and its unfavorable location. 'he place was cobbled together from the bricolage of cultural borrowings and solutions improvised on the fly.' Nothing in this book surpasses Powell's portrayal of the city's mixed American-born people and its free people of color. 'Early New Orleans was a place of reinvented identities, a crossroads of improvisation. People came there to make themselves anew.' In Katrina's aftermath and the shock of nature's claims on our lives, this timely work brings out the complexities of New Orleans's history as well as the rich tapestry of its gritty people. Scholarly but readable, this is a splendid telling presented in a clear, robust voice. 19 illus., 2 maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
America's most beguiling metropolis started out as a snake-infested, hurricane-battered swamp. Through intense imperial rivalries and ambitious settlers who risked their lives to succeed in colonial America, the site became a crossroads for the Atlantic world. Powell gives us the full sweep of the city's history from its founding through statehood.
A Times Picayune Book of the Year, 2012
2012 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize, Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana Historical Association
About the Author
Lawrence N. Powell holds the James H. Clark Endowed Chair in American Civilization and is Director of the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University.
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History and Social Science » Americana » General