The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side

Overview


When Katharine Greider was told to leave her house or risk it falling down on top of her and her family, it spurred an investigation that began with contractors' diagnoses and lawsuits, then veered into archaeology and urban history, before settling into the saltwater grasses of the marsh that fatefully once sat beneath the site of Number 239 East 7th Street.

During the journey, Greider examines how people balance the need for permanence with the urge to migrate, and how the ...

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The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side

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Overview


When Katharine Greider was told to leave her house or risk it falling down on top of her and her family, it spurred an investigation that began with contractors' diagnoses and lawsuits, then veered into archaeology and urban history, before settling into the saltwater grasses of the marsh that fatefully once sat beneath the site of Number 239 East 7th Street.

During the journey, Greider examines how people balance the need for permanence with the urge to migrate, and how the home is the resting place for ancestral ghosts. The land on which Number 239 was built has a history as long as America's own. It provisioned the earliest European settlers who needed fodder for their cattle; it became a spoil of war handed from the king's servant to the revolutionary victor; it was at the heart of nineteenth-century Kleinedeutschland and of the revolutionary Jewish Lower East Side. America's immigrant waves have all passed through 7th Street. In one small house is written the history of a young country and the much longer story of humankind and the places they came to call home.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

If architecture is frozen music, as Goethe said it is, then it is a music enriched with the full resonance of its occupants' history. As a resident of a decaying building in Manhattan's historic Lower East Side, freelance journalist Katharine Greider became a dedicated researcher into the lives of those who had gone before. Not surprisingly, most of these earlier tenement dwellers were immigrants eking out hand-to-mouth existences as they strove to find a more secure hold in their home. In a sense, Greider was unknowingly writing the epitaph of her apartment building: Before long, she and its fellow residents were forced to vacate its crumbling domain. A memoir that opens a vista into our shared history.

From the Publisher

Library Journal, December 15, 2010
“An extraordinary narrative that brings together a chronology of events, a provenance of the once-tenement building, and even a personal memoir. In addition, she has compiled a fascinating chronicle of the previous residents, mostly newly arrived immigrants looking for a ‘better life in America.’ Her sleuthing of public records shows how the building had evolved over the 150 years of its existence, even determining what caused its ultimate doom. Well written and thoroughly researched, this sobering tale should resonate with many readers of our time who have also lost their homes, leaving them asking, ‘How could this happen to me?’”

Booklist, March 15, 2011
“The ‘improbable memoir and epic history’ of one New York address, 239 East 7th Street, describing its series of inhabitants, all craving the security, boundary, and history that is home. With control and confidence, Greider tells her personal narrative while excavating an enormous cast of characters and their connections to and journey through one building in the Lower East Side that comes to represent Manhattan’s evolution….  An astonishing, complex, yet easy-to-digest tale. Greider succeeds brilliantly in magnifying 239—its tenants, structure, and surroundings—so thoroughly that we feel its grit, then zooming out to reveal ‘multitudes dancing on the head of a pin’—the macrocosm that is home, city, humanity.”

NPR.org, March 22, 2011 “Greider is a gifted and poetic stylist…. She is at her best, however, when she veers away from her research and off onto eloquent tangents about the very nature of ‘home.’”

Library Journal
Losing one's home is at the heart of Greider's book, but in this case, it's not about a foreclosure. The home in question here was a historic building on Manhattan's Lower East Side that faced physical collapse, thus forcing the author's family and other residents to flee. Using her impressive skills as a freelance journalist, Greider has created an extraordinary narrative that brings together a chronology of events, a provenance of the once-tenement building, and even a personal memoir. In addition, she has compiled a fascinating chronicle of the previous residents, mostly newly arrived immigrants looking for a "better life in America." Her sleuthing of public records shows how the building had evolved over the 150 years of its existence, even determining what caused its ultimate doom. VERDICT Well written and thoroughly researched, this sobering tale should resonate with many readers of our time who have also lost their homes, leaving them asking, "How could this happen to me?" While the book will certainly interest urban historians, it will appeal even more to home owners wanting clues about how to research the past of their own homes. Recommended.—Richard Drezen, Brooklyn, NY
Kirkus Reviews

A narrative of one piece of residential property in New York City's East Village, combined with an idiosyncratic account of the city's growth and a meditation about what makes a house a home.

In January 2002, freelance writer Greider (The Big Fix: How the Pharmaceutical Industry Rips Off American Consumers, 2003) received an unsettling call. Her Manhattan home on 7th St. between Avenues C and D that she inhabited with her husband and two young children was in danger of collapsing because of structural problems. They had purchased the property about a decade earlier, unaware of its rotting infrastructure. The family moved out quickly into temporary quarters, uncertain whether to rebuild at the same location after the demolition, to move somewhere else in NYC or to leave the city altogether. As Greider fretted, she also decided to learn about the piece of land, the house built upon it, the builders, the generations of inhabitants, the rest of the block, the larger neighborhood, the borough of Manhattan and NYC as a whole. Eventually, the author deepened her inquiries, researching the evolution of private property and home-building. The resulting narrative is a mixed bag. The author incorporates elements of investigative journalism, genealogy, archaeology, sociology,philosophy, geography and engineering (the list of disciplines could continue), and the mix of writing styles is nearly as numerous. The poetic mixes with the didactic, and Greider writes alternately in a highly evolved third-personnarrative and first-person accounts that occasionally turn maudlin. The author and her husband overcame depression as their temporaryrootlessness stretched out over the years, and they had to counter litigation alleging their failure to maintain the house adequately. Greider countered the depression by examining the worlds of the previous residents over a couple of centuries, documenting their day-to-day lives when the research material allowed, speculating about them when the research failed to provide concrete answers.

The author tries to do too much with one plot of urban land, but she succeeds at much of what she covers.

Sam Roberts
When life hands you lemons, the old saw goes, make lemonade. Katharine Greider has gone the saying one better, providing refreshment and nourishment without any sour aftertaste. After she and her family were suddenly forced to abandon their apartment in Alphabet City a decade ago, she transformed her personal real estate debacle into an adventure in urban anthropology.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586487126
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 3/22/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,413,879
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Katharine Greider is a writer living in New York City. She got her start in journalism at an alternative newsweekly and then a small-town daily newspaper. As a freelancer she has written on health and medicine, culture, and other topics for local and national newspapers, magazines, and non-profit organizations, from the AARP Bulletin to the New York Times. Her first book was The Big Fix: How the Pharmaceutical Industry Rips Off American Consumers.
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