These Books Will Show You What Life Was Like in Colonial NYC

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Are you curious about New York’s early days? These four books, fiction and non-fiction, will show you what life was like in colonial NYC.

Book that show you what life was like in colonial NYC - The Island at the Center of the World

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto

New York City’s colonial history didn’t start with the British in 1664 but rather with the Dutch four decades earlier. Russell Shorto gives an overview into this often overlooked history through this highly readable bestseller that has become a staple on NYC historians’ bookshelves.

Book that show you what life was like in colonial NYC - New York Burning

New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan by Jill Lepore

This book will take you back to 1741, where a series of mysterious fires have put the fledging New York City on edge. Frightened white residents convince themselves that this is the work of a massive slave uprising in the making, and what happens next is akin to the Salem Witch Trials. This book sheds light on this horrible incident in NYC history as well as what slavery was like in colonial New York City.

New York: the Novel

New York: the Novel by Edward Rutherfurd

At nearly 900 pages (1000 pages if you get the UK edition), this book is a hefty boi. But don’t be intimidated by its length: if you’re only interested in the depiction of colonial New York, you just have to read the first 650 pages of this book. However, I doubt that you’ll stop reading after the finishing the colonial section of New York. It’s impossible not to become highly invested in the lives of each generation of New Yorkers introduces to you in this book, which timeline spans the city’s entire history.

Golden Hill

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford

This novel is as much an insight into what life was like in colonial NYC as it is an intriguing tale you’ll be eager to get to the bottom of. Set in 1746, the story centers on Richard Smith, a young man who arrives in New York from London with a promissory note for a fortune of 1,000 pounds, which was a big deal back in that day. Richard is charming but tight-lipped, which causes the city’s high society to obsess over figuring him out. Perhaps you, as the reader, can figure him out before they can.

Have you read any of the books on this list? Which one do you think does the best job depicting what life was like in colonial NYC? Are there any other books that you’d add to this list? Share it in the comment section.

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