The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans by Lawrence N. Powell

Oct 6, 2012

I bought this book at Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley in New Orleans and read at least half of it in the New Orleans airport, on the plane and in the Chicago airport on the way home.  Let’s put it this way:  We were supposed to get home at 6:30 in the evening, but due to delays and a missed connection, we did not actually make it until 4 AM the next morning.  And the book was so readable and interesting that I was actually too absorbed to complain much for most of that night. 

 Powell starts with the establishment of the French village on the banks of the Mississippi in the early eighteenth century and stops in 1812 when Louisiana became a state.  The difficult geography, frequent political turmoil and complicated ethnic makeup of New Orleans throughout its history result in a fascinating story.  The book is extremely carefully researched and written.  Not an easy read, it requires careful attention but then rewards that attention many times over.  The chapters on the gens de couleur libres (free people of color) and the slaves were the most interesting to me, but I also learned a great deal about the period of Spanish rule.  Of course, I recommend that you walk all over the French Quarter as soon as you finish this book, but you can wait.  If you do read it, you will to want to visit New Orleans.

Reviewed by Brent W.
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