Lawrence Powell delivers a gripping history of New Orleans in ‘Accidental City’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2012-04-30 00:10Z by Steven

Lawrence Powell delivers a gripping history of New Orleans in ‘Accidental City’

New Orleans Times-Picayune

Chris Waddington

At first, I was disappointed to hear that Lawrence Powell’s history of the Crescent City ended with the Battle of New Orleans. I wanted the Tulane University scholar to bring me a little closer to the present.

My opinion changed a few pages into “The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans.”
Powell’s splendid time machine of a book swept me into a detailed account of the city’s rise from swampy colonial outpost to strategic linchpin during the War of 1812. Populated with vividly sketched characters, Powell’s history fits individual actors into a coherent, geopolitical narrative that spans centuries and continents — no easy task when your cast includes Enlightenment scientists, loud-mouthed market women, French-Canadian voyageurs, Ursuline nuns, slave artisans and Gen. Andrew Jackson hoisted on the shoulders of cheering Baratarians…

…The birth of a distinctive Creole society wasn’t fast or tidy. Powell writes about free people of color who owned slaves. He writes about back-of-town bars where people of all races mixed. He describes how Ursuline nuns recruited the wives of slaveholders to serve as godparents for their baptized chattels — in opposition to prevailing law. He writes about brutally suppressed slave revolts — and the free manumission of black concubines and their mixed-race offspring. He catches all the high and low notes as New Orleanians improvised an American future — and he makes it clear that America would be a very different place without the city’s contributions.

Read the entire review here.

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