I lived in many cities growing up – London, Paris, Washington, D.C., Ankara, Turkey, New Delhi, India, Djakarta, Indonesia, and Singapore, because my father was a diplomat. As an adult I added New York (first as a student at Barnard College and Columbia Journalism School, and then as a journalist) and Baltimore to that list. Though never planned, all my books have been inspired by my interest in the histories and dynamics of cities, these complicated urban worlds where more and more citizens prefer to live.
A story I wrote for The New York Times in the early 1980s about reviving the Grand Concourse, the magnificent Champs-Elysées of the stricken Bronx, grew into my first book, South Bronx Rising. How, I wondered—in our rich nation—had this once-thriving borough come so close to annihilation from poverty, crime, abandonment, and arson? While in the Bronx, I also wondered why the U.S. had such a powerful drug culture? That became my Ph.D. thesis in American history at Johns Hopkins University, and my second book: Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams.
After these two books about the underside of American life, I was drawn to the Gilded Age, those tumultuous decades after the Civil War when the United States emerged as a wealthy industrial power, an amazing engine of invention and prosperity. The era seemed so resonant with our own—a swiftly urbanizing world upended by new technologies and vast fortunes: the astonishment of electricity as a neophyte technology in Empires of Light; the remaking of America by the railroads as they transformed space and time in Conquering Gotham; and the evermore globalized cities captured in Eiffel’s Tower.
Even while working on Eiffel’s Tower in 2008, climate change was very much in the news. For me, it is THE issue of our era. What might I write that could offer some way to slow or soften the effects on cities? And so, I found myself immersed in the world of city trees. Like most of us, I liked trees, but I really did not know much about the trees that surrounded me. URBAN FORESTS is the fascinating story of the arboreal green infrastructure and the wonderful people who have devoted their lives to trees and creating urban forests that make cities so much more beautiful and healthier.
Books in order of publication:
South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City – 1986
Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America’s Romance With Illegal Drugs – 1999
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World – 2004
Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels – 2007
Eiffel’s Tower and the World’s Fair: Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count – 2009
Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees in the American Cityscape – 2016