Catalogue


The accidental city : improvising New Orleans /
by Lawrence N. Powell.
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2012.
description
422 p.
ISBN
0674059875 (hbk. : alk. paper), 9780674059870 (hbk. : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2012.
isbn
0674059875 (hbk. : alk. paper)
9780674059870 (hbk. : alk. paper)
contents note
An impossible river -- The accidental city -- Bayoutopia -- The improvised city -- Changing of the guard -- In contraband we trust -- A Creole city -- Slavery and the struggle for mastery -- The slaves remake themselves -- A new people, a new racial order -- The American hinge.
catalogue key
8322557
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2012-04-01:
Erected on infested swampland, New Orleans is a city that, in practical terms, never should have existed. However, its location at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi-the largest river in North America and fourth largest in the world-meant that this was a city destined to flourish. Profiling its founders, Powell (James H. Clark Endowed Chair in American Civilization & director, New Orleans Ctr. for the Gulf South, Tulane Univ.) details the late 17th-century birth and evolution of this diverse city that has a love-hate relationship with its residents. His research, which focuses on those emerging years rather than recent history, coupled with his profound understanding of his subject, deepens readers' appreciation and understanding of this city. VERDICT Though this volume, complete with illustrations and maps, could easily serve as a source for a sophisticated formal study of New Orleans/Louisiana history, it is also accessible to general readers seeking deep and contextualized information on this topic, especially if they're prepared to dive right into the subject without much lead-in. Recommended for all collections covering the early history of New Orleans and Louisiana.-Sonnet Ireland, Univ. of New Orleans Lib. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2012-01-02:
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. "[T]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. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Appeared in Choice on 2012-10-01:
Few North American cities enjoy the extremes in perception that characterize New Orleans. Some visitors relish the nonstop partying on Bourbon Street and the general carefree abandon evident citywide; others loath the stifling heat and humidity, fear the ubiquitous crime, and/or resent the perceived ascendance of pagan ribaldry. Prevailing perceptions of the Crescent City are long established, but the disaster of Hurricane Katrina recast interpretations of New Orleans to include acknowledgement of its humanity. Powell (Tulane) advances sympathetic understanding of what very well may be the US's most curious city. He traces the dynamics of politics and business that ultimately located a city in virtually uninhabitable swampland. The lively narrative continues from the French through the Spanish colonial periods, concluding with Louisiana statehood in 1812, all the while revealing the disparate forces that bound the city together just as they threatened to tear it apart. Consistent with the author's established interests, race and race relations remain central to this interpretation. Readers may not agree with all aspects of Powell's argument, but they are certain to find this an intriguing read that answers scores of questions about a complex city. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and undergraduate collections. S. C. Hyde Southeastern Louisiana University
Reviews
Review Quotes
A masterful unfolding of the story of the most complicated and unusual city in the United States. This will become the definitive book on the early history of not only New Orleans but much of the Gulf Coast.
[Powell's] book addresses the reasons New Orleans has survived and thrived, against impossible odds, and what makes this "accidental" city so fascinating and precious...Powell's brilliant study meticulously traces the story of the city's founding in a swamp and its first century of growth into an extraordinary hybrid Indian-European-Caribbean-African-American place...The narrative traces the early French settlers' conflicts and relationships with Indians, slaves and free people of color around the settlement and its architectural designs, through the short but significant period of Spanish rule, and finally to the famous Louisiana Purchase and American political, though never social and cultural, domination. It documents with compelling detail and anecdote the disputes and compromises involved in the settlement's design and post-conflagration rebuilt versions, and illuminates the complex history of the city's smuggling, tripartite racial order, slave and free population and African-American "cultural creation," metissage (race mixing), marronnage (fugitive slaves), Creolization and hybrid religions (notably Catholicism and voodoo)...This will become the definitive study of New Orleans' early history. When, I ask impatiently, can we read Powell on the next two centuries of this "accidental" city's life?
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...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...This is a splendid telling presented in a clear, robust voice.
Written as a historical text in narrative form, Powell manages to unpack several different American and American-related histories into one, which is the great success of the book. He writes this history of New Orleans in the only way one can: carefully. Powell doesn't stick to one narrative because the history of New Orleans is an ever-changing confluence of events, people, and cultures that lacks the same kind of linear story of other cities...Weaving together events that range from international politics to the socio-cultural development of poor American families, Powell's comprehensive glimpse of the past is particularly important today.
Powell's fluid, pungent narrative and comprehensive interpretive reach argue powerfully for New Orleans' enduring cultural significance in America and globally.
An epic account of how America's most exotic city crept and clawed its way into existence. Powell evokes the swamps, sweat, misery, grandeur, and colorful and seedy characters that came together to create a place that Thomas Jefferson could never comprehend.
The Accidental City is a tour de force--engagingly written, broad in scope, precise in detail, and completely worthy of its fascinating, complex, soulful subject.
There are bigger cities than New Orleans, more beautiful cities than New Orleans, and more important cities than New Orleans but there is no city more interesting than New Orleans. This is a fascinating book about a fascinating city.
The author knows well the geographical and geopolitical history of the city where he teaches, and the complexity of this story would daunt a faint-hearted historian--which Powell manifestly is not. He dives confidently into the murky bayou of the region's story, and what a tangled tale he emerges to tell...Powell is brilliant at elucidating the city's intricate racial politics.
The ebb and flow of cultures, and the way they melded and reshaped New Orleans in its first century, is the subject of Lawrence N. Powell's masterful history...It's an account of how an improbable city came to be and then survived through its own determination and the flexible social and political structures of its first inhabitants...In his telling, Powell deftly manages to bring historic personages to life with a few well-chosen words...Like the city itself, [the book] is a successful hybrid, filled with well-rendered writing that doesn't preen.
[The Accidental City] provided for me the back story to anything I've ever wondered about in our enigmatic city...[The book displays] Powell's copious research, his penetrating insights, his wry humor and poetic turns of phrase.
Should stand for years as the definitive history of New Orleans's first century...Powell's account of New Orleans's racial history is extensive; he is especially good on the subject of the black militias that formed during the Spanish rule and helped strengthen the city's community of free blacks.
[The Accidental City] is one of the finest regional American histories I have encountered in a long time, a delight to anyone with even the faintest curiosity about how our nation became itself...[A] marvelous book.
A superb book by one of America's foremost living historians.
Deepens readers' appreciation and understanding of this city.
Filled with vivid characters and insights into the city's deep-rooted culture, this sweeping history traces the growth of New Orleans from swampy colonial outpost to strategic linchpin during the War of 1812.
Most visitors to New Orleans know it is a magical city. But "accidental"? A strange word, but appropriate, according to this fascinating account of the origin and history of what the author describes as "America's only original contribution to world culture."...The heart of this story lies in the rich chapters devoted to the African-Americans who came as slaves. Many of them attained their freedom because they held the city together through their strength and ingenuity. From the three-tiered culture that developed--white planters, free blacks and slaves--grew the cuisine and music that make New Orleans the queen of the delta.
Powell advances sympathetic understanding of what very well may be the U.S.'s most curious city. He traces the dynamics of politics and business that ultimately located a city in virtually uninhabitable swampland. The lively narrative continues from the French through the Spanish colonial periods, concluding with Louisiana statehood in 1812, all the while revealing the disparate forces that bound the city together just as they threatened to tear it apart. Consistent with the author's established interests, race and race relations remain central to this interpretation. Readers may not agree with all aspects of Powell's argument, but they are certain to find this an intriguing read that answers scores of questions about a complex city.
Powell has composed a comprehensive early history of the Crescent City in The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans. Beginning with La Salle, Bienville and Iberville's early forays on the wild Mississippi River--the "Impossible River," as Powell christens his first chapter--he leads us through over a century of rambunctious colonialism, delving into trade disputes, shifting economies and race relations, all the way through the growing pains of the Louisiana Territory.
[Powell] catches all the high and low notes as New Orleanians improvised an American future--and he makes it clear that America would be a very different place without the city's contributions.
A dazzler...This is a hellaciously good book about the founding and first few centuries of New Orleans that is so well-crafted that it reads like a fictional thriller. The rich history of the city and its swampy environs offers Powell an eclectic cast and a kaleidoscopic series of events to chronicle, and he takes full advantage. Here's a chance to learn critical American history and be brilliantly entertained at the same time...This book is a treasure, and essential reading for anyone who wants to know the why and how of New Orleans history.
The Accidental City is an extraordinary book--hands down, the best account of the first two centuries of the history of New Orleans.
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, January 2012
Washington Post, March 2012
Kirkus Reviews, April 2012
Library Journal, April 2012
The Australian, April 2012
Choice, October 2012
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
This is the story of a city that shouldn't exist. In the 17th century, what now America's most beguiling metropolis was nothing more than a swamp. But through the intense imperial rivalries of Spain, France, and England, this uncompromising site became a crossroads for the whole Atlantic world.
Main Description
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.
Main Description
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.
Table of Contents
An Impossible Riverp. 1
A Landjobbing Schemep. 33
Utopian by Designp. 60
Improvising a Cityp. 92
Changing of the Guardp. 129
In Contraband We Trustp. 164
A Creole Cityp. 197
Slavery and the Struggle for Masteryp. 222
The Slaves Remake Themselvesp. 249
A New People, a New Racial Orderp. 277
The American Gatewayp. 314
Epiloguep. 352
Notesp. 361
Acknowledgmentsp. 401
Indexp. 405
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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