Randy Cohen: Dukes of Hazard

October 13, 2011 6:19 PM
Author: William Dean Howells
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: 1890

My favorite book about New York is “A Hazard of New Fortunes,” published in 1890 by William Dean Howells, a former editor for The Atlantic. In the novel, a Boston intellectual comes to New York City to run a new bi-weekly magazine. It reads like the story of a dotcom startup — the money man is compromised and there are a lot of young people with a “go, go, go” attitude.

In the period the novel takes place, Boston was the refined town and New York was the sharp-elbowed money town. There are passages about looking for an apartment that are remarkably similar to apartment hunting in modern times. In one scene, the main characters stop for a rest in Washington Square Park where they comment on all the foreigners. The book is still very much in print and is not hard to find at all.

Randy Cohen has written humor pieces, essays, and stories for The New Yorker, Harpers, the Atlantic, Young Love Comics, “Late Night With David Letterman.”  He served for twelve years as “The Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine’s weekly column.  He is currently working on “Person Place Thing,” a public radio program  for WAMC.

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