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New edition of iconic book on NYC comes out

By: The Associated Press//November 19, 2010

New edition of iconic book on NYC comes out

By: The Associated Press//November 19, 2010

President Obama’s time at Columbia University is a new entry in the latest edition of “The Encyclopedia of New York City.” Associated Press.

NEW YORK CITY (AP) — In 1983, a young man named Barack Obama graduated from Columbia University. But the future leader’s New York life didn’t merit a mention in the first edition of “The Encyclopedia of New York City,” published in 1995.

What a difference 15 years makes.

Now, sharing a page in the newest version of the reference guide — with entries on the Staten Island neighborhood of Oakwood and the Obie Award — is one on “Obama, Barack (Hussein).” It recounts his time in the city, the apartments in which he lived, the work he did. Oh, and the little fact that he later became president.

The Obama entry is just one of almost a thousand new additions to “The Encyclopedia of New York City,” the second edition of which is officially being launched on Dec. 1. A compendium of practically anything you might want to know about the city, it includes the people, places and events that have played a part in making New York what it is.

The second edition — with its additions, deletions and revisions — is a window into how much New York City has changed in recent years. New entries include the Sept. 11 attacks, the High Line elevated rail-turned-park on the west side of Manhattan and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“New York City is always evolving, and especially so in the last two decades,” the book’s preface says.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the entry on the World Trade Center. In the first edition, it didn’t measure a whole column length. The entry talks about its construction history, criticism of the design and ends with a one-paragraph reference to the 1993 attacks.

In the second edition, the entry stretches across four pages, with photos, and touches upon everything from the death toll of 9/11 to rebuilding efforts. Sept. 11 gets its own entry, complete with images of smoke coming from the towers, as does “Ground Zero.”

The Times Square entry has been revised, and like its real-life counterpart, is much brighter than it was 15 years ago. The first edition mentioned efforts to clean up the area, once known as a hub of erotic theaters and seedy entertainment, but said the lighting on the area “offered a pale reminder of Times Square in its prime.”

Compare that to the second edition: “By the early twenty-first century Times Square was more successful, attractive, opulent and brilliantly lit than in any previous decade.”

Other new entries are a trip down New York City’s memory lane, both positive and negative. There are references to Amadou Diallo, killed by police in 1999; Wesley Autry, the construction worker who saved a fellow subway rider from getting hit by a train in 2007; and Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street money manager who pleaded guilty to a massive Ponzi scheme in 2009.

Overseen by Columbia University Professor Kenneth T. Jackson, the book is arranged in alphabetical order, meaning entries on people are mixed with entries on places, events and themes such as agriculture, real estate and terrorism. The entries for any people mentioned focuses on the time they spent in New York City, as opposed to an overview of their entire lives.

“It’s just a fabulous resource,” said Richard K. Lieberman, history professor and director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.

And even in this digital age, with a universe of information at one’s fingertips, it offers something that an Internet search can’t, he said.

“As much as we’re in love with the Internet, with Google, students still love to turn the page,” he said. “There’s that wonderful moment when something catches their eye that they weren’t interested in, because it’s on the same page.”

Of course, in as fast-changing an environment as New York City, any reference book about the city is at least somewhat out-of-date when it’s published.

That doesn’t reduce the value of the encyclopedia, said Mike Wallace, a history professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.”

“New York is a moving target, but that doesn’t mean that you give up hope of nailing it,” he said. “It’s such a colossal enterprise that when you change hundreds of items and you add hundreds of new items, you’re making a serious dent in catching up to things.”

The editors of the project don’t plan to make readers wait another 15 years for additional versions. They said an electronic edition, with updates, is planned.

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