Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The World that made New Orleans

The history of New Orleans is palpable. On a walk through town, the presence of the past is everywhere. The street signs are colorful and all tell a story. Frenchmen road, for example, is where the French protesters to the Spanish government were hanged. Reflecting a diverse blend of international cultures, the architecture of the ancient homes is excellent and the craftsmanship has stood well the test of time. Cobblestone streets are still here and there.

Many people have said these characteristics lend a European feel to the city. I disagree. New Orleans is American, through and through. What is different, what so many people can't quite put their finger on, is the sense of history this city carries. I can't explain what exactly is gained through living in a city with history, I just know that I like it. Reading The World that made New Orleans by Ned Sublette is an attempt to better understand that history.

I figured the focus of the book was going to be New Orleans. Wrong. On a second reading of the cover, I noticed that, although New Orleans was written twice as large, it was "the world that made" New Orleans that was the story. This means that this book is primarily about French and Spanish colonial politics and slave trading. Of course, these very interesting subjects are integral to the development of New Orleans, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was having to learn about the city through my periphery--and I wanted to take aim at the bullseye.

The World was well-written and is recommended as a supplementary source. Sublette has done his research and presents the material with clarity and a touch of humor. His specialty is music, and he goes overboard with technical musical information at times. We'll forgive him this indulgence; however, for an overall good read. I don't know if books can become hip, but if they can, this one is. The literate of the city--although there aren't many--are all carrying this title on their hips these days. So, even if you don't want to learn about the city, be cool and read it.

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