When I first came across E. B. White’s book titled “Here is New York,” I was amazed at how well he nailed New York City. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised, E.B. White’s a phenomenal writer, one I’ve loved since childhood (think Charlotte’s Web).
I reread White’s essay this trip to NYC and found it’s still relevant and timely. White understood that the people (the entire mix) are the spirit of New York. Also, White was familiar with being surrounded by 10 million people but still being entirely alone.
“New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants or needs it) against all enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute.” -E. B. White
At the end of White’s essay there is an eerie paragraph because while it was written in 1949 describing the nuclear threat, it could easily be about 9/11 and terrorism too. Here is the quote:
“The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of the jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.” -E. B. White
The whole essay is worth reading. When it was first published, The New Yorker magazine called White’s work “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city.” For me it’s a win/win: I love NYC as well as E. B. White’s writings.