Excerpt: 'Cities of the World'

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hide captionNew York as surveyed in 1766 and published in 1776, by Bernard Ratzer. Orginially drawn in 1770 by a British survey officer, this map was reissued in the early days of the War of Independence, and just weeks before much of the city was destroyed by fire.

University of California Press/The British Library
New York

New York as surveyed in 1766 and published in 1776, by Bernard Ratzer. Orginially drawn in 1770 by a British survey officer, this map was reissued in the early days of the War of Independence, and just weeks before much of the city was destroyed by fire.

University of California Press/The British Library

"It's a honey of a concept," writes senior correspondent Ketzel Levine of this elegant cartographic compendium. "It's a well-designed and incredibly inviting journey, too." Levine recommends Cities of the World in her roundup of the best books to give this season.

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Get more picks from NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine.

Excerpt: New York

The earliest origins of New York City were fittingly international: the first European to sail into the bay in 1524 was an Italian in the service of the king of France — Giovanni da Verrazano, after whom the narrows are named. A further eighty-five years were to pass before a second and closer look was taken in 1609, and this time it was an Englishman commissioned by a Dutch exploration company to seek a way through or around the American continent to the Pacific. Henry Hudson reported enthusiastically on this magnificent harbour, the sheltering green hills and the temperate climate. Within a few years a small Dutch colony had been established, and in 1626 the governor, Peter Minuit, bought the territory of Manhattan for sixty guilders' worth of merchandise — around twenty-five dollars. New Amsterdam was declared a city in 1653, when its population stood at around 800. But European rivalries meant that there was to be no Dutch Empire in the New World: an English fleet seized the city in 1664, and the name was changed to New York, in honour of the Duke of York, brother to King Charles II.

...A century after [the anonymously drafted map known as] the Duke's Plan was drawn, Bernard Ratzer, a military surveyor, drew up a painstaking map of New York which was published in 1776, just when the War of Independence was gathering force. This time Manhattan is mapped northwards along Bowery Lane as far as a line running along 57th Street and the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. At the foot of the map is a distant panoramic view of the buildings of Manhattan seen from Governor's Island. On 'Bedloes or Kennedy Island' the Statue of Liberty now stands, while 'Bucking Island' is now Ellis Island. A number of individual landowners are named in their lands, among them the Stuyvesants' Estate facing the East River. By the time this serene-looking map had been engraved, fighting had already broken out between patriot groups and British soldiers, and huge fires had destroyed parts of the city. After a decade of historic conflict, New York emerged as the first capital of the new nation, and the scene of the inauguration of Washington as the first president. The population passed 60,000 as the nineteenth century opened.

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