The Village: A History of Greenwich Village 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, by John Strausbaugh, is filled with fascinating historical information about New York City and the “Village.” From its inception in 1640, New Amsterdam (i.e. New York), was identified as a “rough outpost” by the Dutch West Indies Company. It also was “astonishingly diverse.” Its five hundred inhabitants came from all over Europe. The first Jews to join the settlement arrived in 1654. These early “residents were tough, contentious, and often drunk — drinking and whoring were the chief entertainments and taverns occupied a quarter of the town’s buildings,” writes Strausbaugh.
This book vividly and meticulously illustrates Strausbaugh’s proposition that New York City, and the Village in particular, has always been and remains a “wide-open party town” much as it was in its founding days. Quirky and creative people have been many of its most important residents. The Village’s high point was its “Golden Age” in the 1900s when artists, intellectuals, actors, and bohemian types congregated in its environs. Other significant time periods have been Prohibition, the “Red Decade,” World War II, gay and lesbian activism, the AIDS epidemic, and today’s gentrification. Jewish luminaries have always been active players in the life of the Village including such figures as Emma Goldman, Samuel Gompers, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, David Amram, and Diane Arbus. I recommend this book for all readers who love to delve into the history of New York and want to gain a greater understanding of the colorful life of the Village, one of its most famous neighborhoods.
John Strausbaugh was the culture and history writer and editor for the weekly New York Press from 1988 through 2002. He has also written for the Washington Post, NPR, and PBS. Bibliography, index, notes, photos (b&w).