What We Are Reading Today: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes

Updated 08 December 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes

  • This volume is a rich, multilayered creation worth leisurely exploration

This is an excellent book about the history of Manhattan island, staring with the indigenous tribes who lived there.

Jennifer Thermes’ illustrated chronicle of the history of Manhattan “is filled with a series of loose-limbed, eye-pleasing maps that trace the island’s transformation from the natural landscape of the native Lenape people to the newly built Dutch and English colony to the gridded American metropolis of the early 19th century and so on until the current day,” said a review in The New York Times.

It added: “Thermes has a gift not only for rendering delicate watercolor, colored pencil and ink illustrations but for narrating history in a way that inspires wonder. How terrifying it must have been to live through the Great Fire of 1835! And how exciting it must have been to ride that first subway in 1904!”

The review said: “Just like Manhattan itself, this volume is a rich, multilayered creation worth leisurely exploration. And it will give all children growing up in New York City a new perspective on their hometown.”


What We Are Reading Today: Porcelain by Suzanne L. Marchand

Updated 02 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Porcelain by Suzanne L. Marchand

Porcelain was invented in medieval China—but its secret recipe was first reproduced in Europe by an alchemist in the employ of the Saxon king Augustus the Strong. Saxony’s revered Meissen factory could not keep porcelain’s ingredients secret for long, however, and scores of Holy Roman princes quickly founded their own mercantile manufactories, soon to be rivaled by private entrepreneurs, eager to make not art but profits. As porcelain’s uses multiplied and its price plummeted, it lost much of its identity as aristocratic ornament, instead taking on a vast number of banal, yet even more culturally significant, roles. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it became essential to bourgeois dining, and also acquired new functions in insulator tubes, shell casings, and teeth.

Weaving together the experiences of entrepreneurs and artisans, state bureaucrats and female consumers, chemists and peddlers, Porcelain traces the remarkable story of “white gold” from its origins as a princely luxury item to its fate in Germany’s cataclysmic 20th century. For 300 years, porcelain firms have come and gone, but the industry itself, at least until very recently, has endured. After Augustus, porcelain became a quintessentially German commodity, integral to provincial pride, artisanal industrial production, and a familial sense of home.

Telling the story of porcelain’s transformation from coveted luxury to household necessity and flea market staple, Porcelain offers a fascinating alternative history of art, business, taste, and consumption in Central Europe.