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The Great Mistake

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From the acclaimed author of High Dive comes an enveloping, exultant novel of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, a story of one man's rise to fame and fortune, and his mysterious murder. Andrew Haswell Green is dead, shot at the venerable age of eighty-three, when he thought life could hold no more surprises. The killing--on Park Avenue, in broad daylight, From the acclaimed author of High Dive comes an enveloping, exultant novel of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, a story of one man's rise to fame and fortune, and his mysterious murder. Andrew Haswell Green is dead, shot at the venerable age of eighty-three, when he thought life could hold no more surprises. The killing--on Park Avenue, in broad daylight, on Friday the thirteenth--shook the city. Green was born to a poor farmer, yet without him there would be no Central Park, no Metropolitan Museum of Art, no Museum of Natural History, no New York Public Library. And Green had a secret, a life locked within him that now, in the hour of his death--alone, misunderstood--is set to break free. As the detective assigned to Green's case chases his ghost across the city, we meet a wealthy courtesan, a brokenhearted man in a bowler hat, and a lawyer turned politician whose decades-long friendship with Green is the source of both his troubles and his joys. A work of tremendous depth and piercing emotion, The Great Mistake is the story of a city transformed, a murder that made a private man infamous, and a portrait of a singular individual who found the world closed off to him--yet enlarged it.


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From the acclaimed author of High Dive comes an enveloping, exultant novel of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, a story of one man's rise to fame and fortune, and his mysterious murder. Andrew Haswell Green is dead, shot at the venerable age of eighty-three, when he thought life could hold no more surprises. The killing--on Park Avenue, in broad daylight, From the acclaimed author of High Dive comes an enveloping, exultant novel of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, a story of one man's rise to fame and fortune, and his mysterious murder. Andrew Haswell Green is dead, shot at the venerable age of eighty-three, when he thought life could hold no more surprises. The killing--on Park Avenue, in broad daylight, on Friday the thirteenth--shook the city. Green was born to a poor farmer, yet without him there would be no Central Park, no Metropolitan Museum of Art, no Museum of Natural History, no New York Public Library. And Green had a secret, a life locked within him that now, in the hour of his death--alone, misunderstood--is set to break free. As the detective assigned to Green's case chases his ghost across the city, we meet a wealthy courtesan, a brokenhearted man in a bowler hat, and a lawyer turned politician whose decades-long friendship with Green is the source of both his troubles and his joys. A work of tremendous depth and piercing emotion, The Great Mistake is the story of a city transformed, a murder that made a private man infamous, and a portrait of a singular individual who found the world closed off to him--yet enlarged it.

30 review for The Great Mistake

  1. 5 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Terrific, really terrific. A beautifully researched examination of Andrew Haswell Green, with an innovative structure, bold writing, and a ton of heart. The scenes with Samuel Tilden exploded off the page - marvelous to learn about a figure while marveling at the quality of Lee's prose. “New York is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel.” Terrific, really terrific. A beautifully researched examination of Andrew Haswell Green, with an innovative structure, bold writing, and a ton of heart. The scenes with Samuel Tilden exploded off the page - marvelous to learn about a figure while marveling at the quality of Lee's prose. “New York is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    What shaped Andrew Haswell Green to become one of the most influential people shaping the map of New York City as we know it today? And what drove another man to murder Green at the age of eighty-three? NYC, 1903: “The last attempt on the life of Andrew Haswell Green took place on Park Avenue in 1903.” Mrs. Bray, a housekeeper, is questioned at a police station, repeatedly by different officers. She relates the events of the day leading to murder, and through her eyes we glimpse who her employer What shaped Andrew Haswell Green to become one of the most influential people shaping the map of New York City as we know it today? And what drove another man to murder Green at the age of eighty-three? NYC, 1903: “The last attempt on the life of Andrew Haswell Green took place on Park Avenue in 1903.” Mrs. Bray, a housekeeper, is questioned at a police station, repeatedly by different officers. She relates the events of the day leading to murder, and through her eyes we glimpse who her employer was – a pioneer. As a young boy growing up on a farm in Massachusetts, Andrew enjoys the farm choirs and the long walks in nature. He enjoys that feeling of adventure and exploration. And though he is not one for reading, when his sister puts him to shame he develops a technique for reading certain pages and imagining the rest. His farm life ends when his father arranges an apprenticeship at a general store in New York. While he doesn’t want to leave the farm, once in the city, his first independent income gives him a thrilling satisfaction. And it’s here he meets and forges a friendship with Samuel Tilden, who later becomes a prominent New York lawyer. The title of The Great Mistake comes from the story of New York’s consolidation of five boroughs. “A project his critics described as the Great Mistake of 1898.” The Father of Greater New York was the founder of many public places, including museums, zoo, parks, and more. Places that are enjoyed by many New Yorkers and visitors every day. The proceedings in the murder case create underlying suspense and the character development gives the story an interesting depth, which is the strength of this story. (4 stars: Personally, I don’t like to read about any kind of proceedings. Thus, the proceedings of the murder case did not hold my interest. However, the life of Andrew Green is interesting.) Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Review originally posted at mysteryandsuspense.com

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    This captivating novel focuses on the life of Andrew Haswell Green, the man who is considered "the Father of Greater New York." The story begins with his death, murdered outside his front door by a distressed individual named Cornelius Williams. The book then splits into two narratives. The first takes a look at highlights from Green's life. We learn about his humble beginnings, working on the meagre family farm. In his teens, he is sent to New York to become an apprentice in a general store, in This captivating novel focuses on the life of Andrew Haswell Green, the man who is considered "the Father of Greater New York." The story begins with his death, murdered outside his front door by a distressed individual named Cornelius Williams. The book then splits into two narratives. The first takes a look at highlights from Green's life. We learn about his humble beginnings, working on the meagre family farm. In his teens, he is sent to New York to become an apprentice in a general store, in the hopes of setting him on the path to earn a respectable living ("His family feared he might one day succumb to the catastrophe of being a poet"). There he falls under the spell of the two real loves of his life - books, and his great friend Samuel Tilden. The second plot strand takes a look at the investigation into Green's death, led by the capable Inspector McClusky, who tries his best to understand the motive behind the murder. The Great Mistake is billed as historical fiction, but it's all based on events in the life of a real person, so a 'reimagining' might be a more accurate description. I had never heard of Green before reading the book, and I was amazed to learn about the enormous impact he had on New York City, being responsible for the creation of Central Park and New York Public Library, among many other significant projects. The story also captures Green's profound loneliness and I found this quite moving. He was obviously gay, though never able to publicly acknowledge the fact, and his repressed sexuality only served to drive him further into himself. His close friendship with Tilden seemed to be a single source of comfort, and though it appears his deeper feelings were reciprocated, they both held back from pursuing a relationship. Lee also paints a vivid picture of a bustling and booming New York, a melting pot of multiple cultures, still scrabbling to forge its true identity. I didn't find the police investigation quite as riveting as other reviewers, but that's probably down to my own personal preference. The Great Mistake is an immersive, poignant tale, and a fitting tribute to the life of a man who deserves to remembered. Favourite Quotes: "He loved this city. He hated it. It was a cathedral of possibilities, it would never settle down, it might remember him or it might forget him, there was a sense of no control..." "He likes the way the slightest impressions are magnified at this early hour: the distant crack of a cratemaker’s hammer; the flat beauty of a flake of downtrodden tobacco; the vendor pulling a cart out of the shack on the other side of the street, ears all aquiver with the effort. This is an area of hatters and druggists, of print shops and bookstores, of hackney coachmen waiting on corners praying for rain." "Eighty-three years old. A lifetime of being a bachelor. This extended life of aloneness might have an effect on a man’s character, might it not? Independence might have rusted into obstinacy." "You wake up one day and realize you are a different person. That seems to be how life happens, how it establishes its patterns. The adult becomes a stranger to the boy he used to be. You become distant from everybody, especially yourself, even if, in the secrecy of your heart, you feel mostly unchanged." "And was it so bad, really, to be plagued by regret? Might our private loneliness, our most crushing inner fears, push us outward, at times, into greater public good? The building of bridges, of open spaces, of consolidated places where others might feel less alone? Is such an idea too ridiculous to form the foundation of action, or inaction?"

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Published today 11 June 2021 This book is a historical novel about the life and death of the real-life 19th century lawyer, civic leader and city-planner Andrew Haswell Green the so-called “Father of Greater New York” who developed (among other things) Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His final major act was drawing up the plans for including Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in a greater New York – the criticism of which at the time gave this book its title. The bo Published today 11 June 2021 This book is a historical novel about the life and death of the real-life 19th century lawyer, civic leader and city-planner Andrew Haswell Green the so-called “Father of Greater New York” who developed (among other things) Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His final major act was drawing up the plans for including Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in a greater New York – the criticism of which at the time gave this book its title. The book opens with Haswell’s murder – at the age of 83 - in 1903, shot in a seeming case of mistaken identity. Haswell we are told in the novel, as a young man, stung by criticism that he did not read enough, started reading but “developed a habit of reading five pages from the opening of a book, and then five pages from the end, going back and forth like this for some time until he could picture the raw sprawl of story in the middle.” – and this serves as a deliberate nod to the structure of the novel. Effectively we have two or perhaps three main sets of chapters One strand tells Green’s story – starting with his Massachusetts upbringing on the family farm, with a distant father who rather scorned his efforts around the farm and later, alarmed by a close briefly quasi-physical friendship that Andrew forms with another boy, sends him to New York to work for a pittance with a local merchant. There Andrew’s only real positive experience is an unlikely friendship he strikes up with the up and coming lawyer Sam Tilden (later the controversial loser in a disputed Presidential election) – but in an echo of his previous experience, Sam withdraws from the relationship due to not entirely unfounded rumours about the closeness of their relationship – and the devastated Andrew spends a year on a Trinidad plantation. The money he gains there and the time for reflection enables him to re-establish himself not just in Sam’s friendship but in his sponsorship – and it is the start of his own successful career, one sketched out only at intervals (for example in a public meeting where he first takes over the Central Park project). The second set of chapters looks at the events of his death and the subsequent investigation into his death – a number of chapters written from the viewpoint of a Police Detective addicted to the medicinal use of cocaine, and who quickly focuses his attention on the murderer’s claim that Green was conspiring against him with a black courtesan, brothel owner and landlord (the real life Hannah Elias). The detective says at one point “The manner of death could be the clue from which the heart of a life could be reached” – and his own attempts to unravel both Green’s life and the motivations for his death serve as a clear analogy for the author’s own interest in writing the book (an interest the novel implies in a brief breaking-the-fourth-wall moment by coming across a Central Park bench which acts as a modest memorial to the Park’s visionary founder. This is, as the above may imply, a novel with a three-way interaction between Green’s own story, the dialogue and action in the novel and the way in which the novel is constructed. Just as some other examples: Green himself observing happenings at a public meeting remarks “There are always at least two histories happening, the inner and the outer, the private and the public” - fitting the book's different levels; the chapters are each named after the original names of the entrance gates in Central Park, which are taken “not from great men of the City, as almost everyone else suggested, but from the pursuits of the ordinary people, so trapped in their own unfulfilled desires” – so here not only do the gates themselves serve as different entry points to Green’s life, but the chapters themselves link to the pursuits picked (Scholars, Artists) and perhaps most of all this is the story of a so-called great-man trapped in his own unfulfilled desires. For Green we are told is a “person who, in his last twenty years, had campaigned tirelessly against the idea of isolation [in setting up public parks, public libraries, in breaking down boundaries and natural barriers between different parts of his vision of a Greater New York] while remaining himself isolated” There is an element of artifice in this – but even that is symbolic as the novel reminds us how Central Park is a man-made, artifice, “imagined and realized through years of careful fraudulence” and how this showed that Green himself “admired, presumably, the careful construction of a suitable human story” So a lot to admire in this very carefully constructed novel. What did not quite work for me. Well here I will try to switch my review to the same level of analogy as used in the book. Pre COVID I would work in mid-town New York around once a month – but I have never visited Central Park. Why? Well because in the UK I live within a 5 minute walk of miles of entirely natural hills and countryside. A City Park – while an appealing idea for some relaxation if in New York - seems like an uneasy compromise to me. And perhaps at times this novel with its mix of a rather straight detective sub-story, US urban history with the meta-literary fiction seemed to be an uneasy compromise also, while still very enjoyable. My thanks to Granta Publications for an ARC via NetGalley

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ari Levine

    A strangely subversive historical novel about the life, thwarted sexuality, and murder of a now-forgotten historical figure who once dominated Gilded Age New York. The novel's title is meaningful in many different personal and political contexts. I knew next to nothing about Andrew Haswell Green's (1820-1903), and his only memorial is a marble bench in a distant corner of Central Park, near Harlem Meer. But, as we learn here, Green was the Robert Moses of his day. He was extremely influential in A strangely subversive historical novel about the life, thwarted sexuality, and murder of a now-forgotten historical figure who once dominated Gilded Age New York. The novel's title is meaningful in many different personal and political contexts. I knew next to nothing about Andrew Haswell Green's (1820-1903), and his only memorial is a marble bench in a distant corner of Central Park, near Harlem Meer. But, as we learn here, Green was the Robert Moses of his day. He was extremely influential in unifying the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898, planning its major landmarks (including Central Park, the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Zoo, and the American Museum of Natural History), and cleaning up after the vast municipal corruption ring of Boss Tweed. Lee's style is wry and observant, but he doesn't attempt a late nineteenth-century pastiche (except in some purple arias of period-perfect dialogue). So this is less like Francis Spufford's Golden Hill and more like a loving homage to E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime-- it's totally immersive but Lee doesn't gratuitously flaunt the deep research. Each chapter, named after a gate in Central Park, interleaves Green's life story with the investigation of his seemingly random murder on Park Avenue (not a spoiler-- this happens on page 1!). The son of an indebted Massachusetts farmer, Green apprentices as a shop boy in New York, becomes an overseer of a sugar plantation in just-emancipated Trinidad, and cunningly maneuvers himself into a position of wealth and power as corporate lawyer and power broker. He was the law partner of Samuel Tilden, who is relatively better-known as the governor of New York and a failed presidential candidate in the rigged election of 1876. Both Green and Tilden died as bachelors, and Lee portrays them as chaste companions, at least one of whom longed for something slightly more than platonic-- very Henry Jamesian. The cast of characters also includes a fantastically wealthy Black courtesan, a cocaine-addicted NYPD detective, a sly Irish housekeeper, Teddy Roosevelt, and a madman with a revolver. Irresistibly enjoyable, and does something new in a very crowded field. Thanks to Netgalley and Knopf for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    There's a strange irony in how a man's influence can be felt everywhere in a city, but the man himself is mostly unknown. Andrew Haswell Green was considered “the Father of Greater New York”. He was a city planner responsible for some of the city's most notable landmarks and institutions including Central Park, the New York Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This businessman and lawyer created a tremendous legacy, but when he was 83 years old he became the victim of a strange murder cas There's a strange irony in how a man's influence can be felt everywhere in a city, but the man himself is mostly unknown. Andrew Haswell Green was considered “the Father of Greater New York”. He was a city planner responsible for some of the city's most notable landmarks and institutions including Central Park, the New York Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This businessman and lawyer created a tremendous legacy, but when he was 83 years old he became the victim of a strange murder case which occurred in 1903. The mystery surrounding the inner life of this figure is the subject of Jonathan Lee's new novel “The Great Mistake” and Green comes to feel like a chimera the author is chasing in order to understand him – even when Green seems not to know himself. The story is framed around the peculiar circumstances of his death and gradually we come to discover the motive behind it, but the real enigma is Green's inexpressible desire which accompanies him throughout his life and never finds fulfilment. In this way, Lee captures a tender sense of loneliness and these grand spaces for the public good which Green created are underlined by a solemn yearning for human connection. Read my full review of The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee on LonesomeReader

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Jonathan Lee's The Great Mistake brings into the light the story of the father of Greater New York City, Andrew Green - a man forgotten to history but brought back to life in this bit of historical fiction. Andrew Green finds himself cast from his family's farm after an adolescent sexual encounter with another boy in the mid-19th Century. Sent to New York to work as a cashier at a mercantile shop, he meets Samuel Tilden, a man of means who will eventually go on to become the Governor of New York Jonathan Lee's The Great Mistake brings into the light the story of the father of Greater New York City, Andrew Green - a man forgotten to history but brought back to life in this bit of historical fiction. Andrew Green finds himself cast from his family's farm after an adolescent sexual encounter with another boy in the mid-19th Century. Sent to New York to work as a cashier at a mercantile shop, he meets Samuel Tilden, a man of means who will eventually go on to become the Governor of New York and candidate for U.S. President. When a lone gunman kills Green in 1903, journalists and a cocaine-induced detective search for answers in the life of Mr. Green. What comes to light is a tale of the life of a man who fought social isolation by giving birth to New York City's great public parks and institutions, all while keeping his own internal workings and desires completely isolated. Despite the historical nature of this book, Lee's writing doesn't convince me with regards to this setting. At times it feels as though Lee cannot quite decide if he wants to present a world of camp or a serious literary historical world and as a result the setting seems at times to be shallow and fake. But the most egregious issue to me is the book's almost complete failure (with the exception of a single line) to address the fact that Andrew Green's biggest accomplishment - the creation of Central Park - displaced an entire neighborhood of Black residents. Nonetheless The Great Mistake is interesting and well-written, an homage to a complicated fan that still remains, to many, a mystery.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    I've seemed to have chosen so many books lately set in present-day New York, but here is a fictionalized biography of a person responsible for many iconic venues that make that City what it is. Andrew Haswell Green, who played a large part in development of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum, Public Library among others, was still a working lawyer of 83 in 1903 when he was shot outside his Park Avenue home. This immersive account follows the timeline of his life as it unfolds, and another tim I've seemed to have chosen so many books lately set in present-day New York, but here is a fictionalized biography of a person responsible for many iconic venues that make that City what it is. Andrew Haswell Green, who played a large part in development of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum, Public Library among others, was still a working lawyer of 83 in 1903 when he was shot outside his Park Avenue home. This immersive account follows the timeline of his life as it unfolds, and another timeline set in 1903 which followed his death and the investigation into it, giving a wonderful reader experience with exquisite detail and possible explanation for the act.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    In The Great Mistake, Jonathan Lee fictionally recreates the life of Andrew Haswell Green, the remarkably prescient and influential 19th century New Yorker who created much of New York City as we know it today. Despite his lasting imprint on New York City—Central Park, the New York Public Library, the Bronx Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Morningside Park, Fort Washington Park, a veritable catalog of my teen haunts—and the very existence of a New York City, Green himself is neither widely r In The Great Mistake, Jonathan Lee fictionally recreates the life of Andrew Haswell Green, the remarkably prescient and influential 19th century New Yorker who created much of New York City as we know it today. Despite his lasting imprint on New York City—Central Park, the New York Public Library, the Bronx Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Morningside Park, Fort Washington Park, a veritable catalog of my teen haunts—and the very existence of a New York City, Green himself is neither widely remembered nor celebrated. The Great Mistake focuses on two supposed great mistakes that framed Green's life and death. First, his devotion to and affection for Samuel Tilden, leading to Green’s one-time youthful rejection by Tilden, who feared that their close friendship would foster gossip that would harm Tilden's social and political standing. Second, the great mistake of the confusion by Green's murderer over Green's identity. Lee ironically frames these momentous highly personal mistakes for Green against the popularly named Great Mistake, which consisted of Green’s advocacy for the 1898 consolidation of New York City. Lee leaves to the reader to parse which of these great mistakes are fictional and which are not. The emotional guts of The Great Mistake lie in Green's struggles as a closeted gay man in 19th century New York; Green’s mentorship by Samuel Tilden, New York City’s Corporation Counsel, New York Governor, failed presidential candidate, and adept money manager; the development of Green and Tilden’s close friendship, its abrupt and temporary end, and its ultimate re-establishment and their subsequent law partnership In The Great Mistake, Jonathan Lee has made the authorial choice of focusing especially on Green as a gay man and less on Green as a remarkably able and forward thinking urban planner and developer. As a reader, I worry that Lee’s focus on Green’s sexuality rather his accomplishments has contributed to shortchanging contemporary recognition of him. Despite my cavils, I hope that Jonathan Lee’s The Great Mistake will help to correct the contemporary great mistake of forgetting Andrew Haskell Green the man while celebrating his legacy. The Great Mistake is engaging, a readable and compelling good story: a thoroughly excellent historical novel. 4.5 stars

  10. 5 out of 5

    fatma

    3.5 stars "He would go looking for it everywhere in the years to come. Love, love, love. As if it were a coin to be found in a field, or a park. As if it could be obtained without forfeiture." I think I wanted to like this more than I did, but I still really did like it. First of all: Jonathan Lee's writing is absolutely exquisite. I could run through a whole laundry list of adjectives, here: beautiful, evocative, moving, earnest, endearing. Reading The Great Mistake, you get the sense that Lee is 3.5 stars "He would go looking for it everywhere in the years to come. Love, love, love. As if it were a coin to be found in a field, or a park. As if it could be obtained without forfeiture." I think I wanted to like this more than I did, but I still really did like it. First of all: Jonathan Lee's writing is absolutely exquisite. I could run through a whole laundry list of adjectives, here: beautiful, evocative, moving, earnest, endearing. Reading The Great Mistake, you get the sense that Lee is genuinely enjoying playing with language, stretching and shaping it to his own ends. If I were rating this novel on the basis of its writing alone, it would without a doubt get a 5 stars. As an example: Lee's writing can take something as simple as a hug and turn it into this, "And then, after a moment of hesitation, comes the embrace--one that seems to lack a center. A feeling of being held only by the very edges of who you are. Of wanting, so intensely, to be brought into the heart." One reason the writing works so well is because it almost effortlessly endears you to the novel's main character, Andrew. You get such an intimate sense of his longing and his loneliness, his persistent sense of inadequacy and alienation. I've never felt so sympathetic towards a character so quickly. Plot is, unfortunately, where this novel falls short. The plot of The Great Mistake feels a bit janky, like an object with all its screws a little loose. The object still presents well, but when you hold it, you can't help but feel like it's about to come apart in your hands. Despite the beautiful writing, this novel was missing a strong, more streamlined plot. It has two timeliness, one following Andrew's past, and one following the present investigation of his murder (the first line of the book is literally: "The last attempt on the life of Andrew Haswell Green took place on Park Avenue in 1903"). I was much more invested in the former plotline than the latter; the whole murder mystery aspect of it all didn't really feel like it belonged to the novel, and as a plotline it felt shoddy, with characters I didn't much care about doing things I also didn't much care about. Despite the weakness of its plot, though, the writing in this novel is so strong that it almost makes up for that plot's inadequacies. Almost being the operative word, here, since the writing never fully picks up the slack from the plot. Still, though, an excellent novel. Thanks so much to Granta for providing me with an e-ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    3.5 This greatly improved in the last third

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

    DNF. After nearly 100 pages, I both admired this novel and was bored by it. Coe's Andrew Green is a repressed, OCD-ish iceberg of a character, and the writing style perfectly matches him - particular, precise but not wordy, moving at a measured pace. Since Green was a highly influential Manhattanite who occupied many positions of power, I'm guessing that the hidden part of the iceberg is eventful, but that still doesn't tempt me to spend more time with this character. I did get far enough along DNF. After nearly 100 pages, I both admired this novel and was bored by it. Coe's Andrew Green is a repressed, OCD-ish iceberg of a character, and the writing style perfectly matches him - particular, precise but not wordy, moving at a measured pace. Since Green was a highly influential Manhattanite who occupied many positions of power, I'm guessing that the hidden part of the iceberg is eventful, but that still doesn't tempt me to spend more time with this character. I did get far enough along to meet Green's future best friend, Samuel Tilden, who appears to be his opposite and no doubt enlivens the rest of the book, but it wasn't enough for me. One thing that impressed me about the book was how well it evoked the noxious, unsanitary streets of NYC in the 1850's. My first reaction was relief that today's City is no longer like that, until I started thinking about those icebergs again.....

  13. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan

    The Great Mistake is a historical novel about the transformation of a city and a man, and the unravelling of his death. Andrew Haswell Green is shot outside his New York City home in 1903, an old man known for his work transforming New York. A detective investigates what happened, and if it really could be a case of mistaken identity, with Green apparently unsure why the man was there to shoot him. Alongside this story runs another, that of Green's life: growing up on a farm, looking for opportu The Great Mistake is a historical novel about the transformation of a city and a man, and the unravelling of his death. Andrew Haswell Green is shot outside his New York City home in 1903, an old man known for his work transforming New York. A detective investigates what happened, and if it really could be a case of mistaken identity, with Green apparently unsure why the man was there to shoot him. Alongside this story runs another, that of Green's life: growing up on a farm, looking for opportunities, and meeting Samuel Tilden, who would be a lifelong friend and source of great longing. I'd never heard of Andrew Haswell Green, and only found out from glancing at a couple of reviews before starting to read The Great Mistake that he was a real person. The novel feels like an attempt to fictionalise some of the gaps and strange events in his life, though I don't know what is from historical records and what is imagined or elaborated upon. The structure—cutting between the 'present' of 1903 as he is murdered and the case investigated, and his life in not always chronological order—brings tension to the latter narrative, which sometimes is bogged down with details of construction and industry in the later 1800s, even though there's not really a huge case to solve so to speak. The book is more of a slow burn, rather than something with fast-paced revelations. The central character's attraction to his best friend, a relationship defined by longing and Green's idea of restraint clashing with any hope of anything more happening, brings another dimension to the novel. It's frustrating to see something play out as it must have for many people, with a sense nothing could ever go anywhere between them if they want to keep their positions in society, and their hopes of greatness. The dissatisfying, understated tragedy of it gives the book its own sense of the restraint that Green holds up as an ideal, frequently showing his feelings but not quite dwelling on them. Combining the history of New York with the story of a change and murder, The Great Mistake is a novel ideal for historical fiction fans who like the fictionalisation of real figures in clever ways, or looking beyond the famous landmarks or moments to see what made them. It's an understated tragedy that can be a bit slow at times, but also does draw you in.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kit Wren

    T.S. Eliot said, immature writers, imitate, mature artists steal. At least, I think he did. That is one of those aphorisms that get credited to everybody clever and notorious. In any case, Thomas Stearns Eliot died about twenty years before Thomas Harris wrote Silence of the Lambs, so he was not aware of a third option, the Buffalo Bill. In this book, a fictive account of the life and sudden death of Andrew Haswell Green, father of Greater New York, Johnathan Lee does not imitate E.L. Doctorow o T.S. Eliot said, immature writers, imitate, mature artists steal. At least, I think he did. That is one of those aphorisms that get credited to everybody clever and notorious. In any case, Thomas Stearns Eliot died about twenty years before Thomas Harris wrote Silence of the Lambs, so he was not aware of a third option, the Buffalo Bill. In this book, a fictive account of the life and sudden death of Andrew Haswell Green, father of Greater New York, Johnathan Lee does not imitate E.L. Doctorow or steal from him. He digs him up from his grave and tries to wear him. The result is a pitiful, irritating novel convinced of its own grandness but entirely unconvincing. There are plashes of attempts at lyricism that just sound like noise, there's an attempt at a tragic backstory that does not land with any weight whatsoever. Green is made queer, which is plausible for any 19th century lifelong bachelor, but is buried so deep in the closet that he never does anything more than hold hands briefly in an experimental subway car. People were gay in the 19th century; some of them were throwing it around town. I don't see the point in constructing a closet around Green for him to hide in. The supporting characters have nothing to offset them besides, in some cases, famous names. Samuel Tilden is there to serve as a mentor and an object of queer desire for Green, but almost literally does nothing in the entire narrative. He might as well just be a name in blue on wikipedia. The third-person narrator constantly drops his omniscience to try and re-gift musty old aphorisms to the reader, some of which are probably already 50% off at Target The only spark of wit or life in all of this was the buffoonish police inspector charged with finding a motive to the killing, but even he is reduced to being the minute hand on the plot watch, suddenly solving the case when Mr. Lee, looks up at the calendar, see that it's November 29th, and he better wrap this up so he can get the free t-shirt from his local NaNoWrimo chapter. THis is a type of novel that in general I like done so poorly that I have taken it personally. Do not read this. Do not let your friends read this. Read Ragtime instead. Read Billy Bathgate. Read World's Fair. And for god's sake don't go to the graveyard, some weird shit happened there.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Straight-up masterpiece. Staggeringly good: rich and multilayered, elegantly crafted and boldly written. That this isn’t on the 2021 Booker longlist is - dare I say it? - a great mistake.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marion

    What a disappointment! I had looked forward to learning about the life and times of Andrew Haswell Green, a significant Gilded Age figure who was known at the time as the father of Greater New York and instrumental in the creation of Central Park, the NY Public Library, the Natural History Museum and other significant contributions to NYC’s standing as a world class city. Instead I got a turgid mishmash of his early life, fleeting views of his major contributions to NYC, the thoughts and viewpoi What a disappointment! I had looked forward to learning about the life and times of Andrew Haswell Green, a significant Gilded Age figure who was known at the time as the father of Greater New York and instrumental in the creation of Central Park, the NY Public Library, the Natural History Museum and other significant contributions to NYC’s standing as a world class city. Instead I got a turgid mishmash of his early life, fleeting views of his major contributions to NYC, the thoughts and viewpoints of his housekeeper and the detective assigned to his murder case, a madam of a house of ill repute and the ambitions of the lawyer representing his murderer. Of greater interest, the author does spend quite a bit of time on his relationship with Samuel Tilden, who became governor of NY and a candidate for the presidency, and who elevated him into the circles of power and influence. The author spends a lot of time hinting broadly at a sexual relationship between the two - but offers no substantial proof. Written in the stodgy prose style of the era made the story less accessible to my modern day sensibilities as well. I elevated my rating to 3 stars only because of what I did learn about Green’s life, but I found myself struggling to maintain interest.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mary McBride

    4.5 An interesting and intimate novel about the life of Andrew Haswell Green. Green was responsible for the creations of Central Park, The Metropolitan Museum, NY Public Library and Bronx Zoo. Green was shot outside his home on Park Avenue in 1903 when he was 83 years old. There is a bit of a mystery about his murder but its really a character study of a man with a great vision. Great historical fiction.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bill Silva

    Quiet, understated prose and story both…a bit too quiet for my taste, but some of the writing is exquisite, and the portrait of the main character is beautifully done.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kate Vane

    The Great Mistake is a novel based on the life and death of Andrew Haswell Green, the “Father of Greater New York”, who was responsible for public infrastructure projects including Central Park and the New York Public Library. The novel begins with the day of his death in 1903, shot in a case of apparent mistaken identity. It then goes back to the beginning of his life and tells his story in (mostly) chronological order, in a wry, understated voice. There’s another strand of the story which follow The Great Mistake is a novel based on the life and death of Andrew Haswell Green, the “Father of Greater New York”, who was responsible for public infrastructure projects including Central Park and the New York Public Library. The novel begins with the day of his death in 1903, shot in a case of apparent mistaken identity. It then goes back to the beginning of his life and tells his story in (mostly) chronological order, in a wry, understated voice. There’s another strand of the story which follows the aftermath of the murder, in particular the detective charged with investigating the case, and the woman who the murderer cites as the reason for his crime. In this telling, Green grows up in poverty on a farm in Massachusetts under a stern and unloving father, a man who takes his own disappointments out on his son. The suggestion is that it is Green’s sexuality which underlies his cruelty. Even at a young age, despite his strength and dexterity, his father senses that he is not a man in the sense he would want him to be. Green goes to New York to work as an apprentice in the mercantile trade, continuing an impoverished existence. There he meets Samuel Tilden, the wealthy lawyer who will go on to be his patron and will run unsuccessfully for the presidency. There is an immediate attraction between them but Tilden vacillates between affection and the desire to conform to social expectations. Eventually, Green leaves to work on a plantation in Trinidad where he earns enough money to return to New York and take his place in society. This more equal status leads Tilden to renew his interest and recruit him to his law firm. Throughout their life together, they take on a number of public projects. After Tilden’s death, Green continues his work developing the city, living a reclusive life with his housekeeper. The key theme of The Great Mistake is the division between private and public life, the roles that Green feels he has to play, the secrets he must keep. His shame comes from society but also the early, formative experiences of his childhood. This theme also plays out in the story of the detective and his investigation, which takes him into the underbelly of the city. More pertinently, it plays into the story of the city itself. Even Central Park, which appears to represent untamed nature in the heart of the city, is an artificial creation, carefully crafted to mimic wilderness. I did feel the story lost focus a bit towards the end (ironically, the years of Green’s fame are the least interesting part of the story) and the story of the detective was less interesting than the rest. His justification for pursuing the motive of the murder is that juries don’t like to convict without one, but given that the murderer was apprehended at the scene this seems a stretch. The Great Mistake is beautifully written, portraying Green’s struggles and unique perspectives with great sensitivity. It sheds light on the mystery of cities, how they are shaped both by random interactions and decisions, large and small, by individuals, sometimes acting together, sometimes going against the consensus. The portrayal of Green as powerful and driven, but also lonely and socially anxious, is a moving one that will stay with me. * I received a copy of The Great Mistake from the publisher via Netgalley.

  20. 5 out of 5

    LoneStarWords Deb Coco

    To be a gentleman in New York, one needed an education. To obtain an education in New York, one needed money. To obtain money in New York, one needed to be a gentleman. The city formed its circles. The Great Mistake Jonathan Lee • This was just the book I needed to get me out of my post NYC visit blues. • The Great Mistake is one of the best written historical fiction books I've found. Stephanie Danler's blurb on the back cover states that Lee's writing is a “feat of elegance" and I couldn’t say it a To be a gentleman in New York, one needed an education. To obtain an education in New York, one needed money. To obtain money in New York, one needed to be a gentleman. The city formed its circles. The Great Mistake Jonathan Lee • This was just the book I needed to get me out of my post NYC visit blues. • The Great Mistake is one of the best written historical fiction books I've found. Stephanie Danler's blurb on the back cover states that Lee's writing is a “feat of elegance" and I couldn’t say it any better—the writing is superb. • This is the story of Andrew Haswell Green who is credited with shaping much of the NYC we know today. He was a self made Renaissance man who left his mark on almost all walks of city life by being the force behind such institutions as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and The New York Public Library just to name the big ones. • This is told in dual timelines, which I always love and find effective. Green is murdered at the age of 83 on Park Avenue and Lee takes us back in time to witness Green’s childhood and formative years and see what shaped the man he became. At the same time we experience the investigation into his death- the back and forth moved the story along at a perfect clip. • This book afforded a view of how the city we know today came to be. The chapters are named for the Central Park Gates, a great structural device. • This is now the second book in a month (The Personal Librarian being the other) that told the story of an unknown but incredibly important and influential person in NYC history. And although I don't see this being a book you’ll gravitate towards unless you have or feel a connection to “the” city, I absolutely loved it. • Bonus points for the cover and the deckle edged pages.

  21. 4 out of 5

    4cats

    If you asked people who Andrew Haswell Green I would suggest the majority wouldn't know who or what he achieved and yet without Green the city of New York would have a totally different landscape. Green was know as the 'Father of Greater New York', he is responsible for the creation of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Bronx zoo and the list goes on. I hadn't come across Green until I read this fascinating, beautifully crafted novel The Great Mistake If you asked people who Andrew Haswell Green I would suggest the majority wouldn't know who or what he achieved and yet without Green the city of New York would have a totally different landscape. Green was know as the 'Father of Greater New York', he is responsible for the creation of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Bronx zoo and the list goes on. I hadn't come across Green until I read this fascinating, beautifully crafted novel The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee, it seems history has forgotten Green, there are no great monuments or buildings named after him, although there is a stone seat in Central Park tucked away from the most popular walks. Jonathan Lee has brought Green back to life strangely through his death, Green at the age of 83 was murdered on his doorstep, The Great Mistake takes us through a fictionalised version of what took place, Green's movements, the police investigation interlaced with this is Green's past life, we see his humble origins, his drive, his loneliness possibly due to his sexuality (it had to be hidden as he knew his public role would crumble), his near lifelong friendship with Samuel J Tilden and his work to form a worthy modern city. This is a novel which looks at what a public life can do to a man who tried to hide his private life away from the public gaze. It immerses you in a long past age and yet Green is alive and living in the novel due to the wonderful prose, descriptions and narrative which engage with the reader and leave you wanting more. Thanks to Granta and Netgalley for supplying an early copy for me to review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    A richly imagined fictionalization of the life of a very real man—Andrew Haswell Green, not well known (I had never heard of him) but responsible for many of the major public institutions of New York City. A partial list includes Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and the New York Public Library. His was the driving force behind the amalgamation of the separate boroughs into Greater New York. He also contributed to the drive for free public education and A richly imagined fictionalization of the life of a very real man—Andrew Haswell Green, not well known (I had never heard of him) but responsible for many of the major public institutions of New York City. A partial list includes Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and the New York Public Library. His was the driving force behind the amalgamation of the separate boroughs into Greater New York. He also contributed to the drive for free public education and helped clean up the endemic Boss Tweed corruption in the city. A very private person, his death became a matter of sensationalistic headlines when, at the venerable age of 83, he was gunned down in broad daylight at his own front door on Park Avenue in a case of mistaken identity by a mentally ill man. This makes rich fodder for a well-researched and beautifully written historical novel that takes young Andrew from a miserable childhood on a failing farm, through a period as a half-starved, fully beaten apprentice in a dry goods store, where he meets and befriends future Governor of New York and almost President (he wuz robbed) Samuel Tilden and begins to educate and elevate himself to become the eventual Father of New York. A truly American story of the self-made man in some respects, author Lee also draws on the rumours of the time to discreetly sketch the more than friendship between Tilden and Green, both lifelong bachelors. I generally get my history from novels, and this one was a gold mine of information.

  23. 5 out of 5

    KennytheKat

    The book was amazing. Although it’s historical fiction, it felt like a non-fiction history book throughout the first half of the book. The second is when it started to feel more like a historical fiction. However, the characters, the book itself, and the plot of the book was amazing, it was a beautiful connection and it wasn’t a predictable plot and I really enjoyed that it wasn’t predictable. This book is a must read for historical fiction lovers and I would definitely read this book again. I di The book was amazing. Although it’s historical fiction, it felt like a non-fiction history book throughout the first half of the book. The second is when it started to feel more like a historical fiction. However, the characters, the book itself, and the plot of the book was amazing, it was a beautiful connection and it wasn’t a predictable plot and I really enjoyed that it wasn’t predictable. This book is a must read for historical fiction lovers and I would definitely read this book again. I did finish the second half of this book last night and it was well worth staying up to finish.

  24. 4 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Based on real events, Andrew Haswell Green, at age 83, is shot five times in broad daylight in front of his home on Park Avenue. This is a fascinating story about an important NYC figure that I had never heard of before, but he’s the man who brought about Central Park and created the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History and the New York Public Library. The book bounces around from the key moments in Andrew’s life and the investigation into why he was killed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Nope, the title isn't a review, although Mr. Lee seems pretty determined to believe he's written a novel that could be described as "great" in some way. He gets closest in his vignettes, depictions of particular moments of 19th Century New York history that could be the basis of some gripping short stories. As is, though, "The Great Mistake" is a series of fully realized, beautifully written digressions stitched together by a threadbare plot. Mr. Lee's conceit/belief/premise is that Andrew Haswe Nope, the title isn't a review, although Mr. Lee seems pretty determined to believe he's written a novel that could be described as "great" in some way. He gets closest in his vignettes, depictions of particular moments of 19th Century New York history that could be the basis of some gripping short stories. As is, though, "The Great Mistake" is a series of fully realized, beautifully written digressions stitched together by a threadbare plot. Mr. Lee's conceit/belief/premise is that Andrew Haswell Green, the New York lawyer and and urban planner who had campaigned for the creation of Central Park, was the longtime platonic admirer of his mentor, Samuel Tilden, the governor of New York and failed Democratic candidate for President in 1876. Plenty of novelists think unrequited love is a compelling subject for fiction. Some of them are right. Mr. Lee isn't, exactly, since his unrequited lover, the distinguished Mr. Green, is pedantic, dull and repressed, qualities which I've no doubt were invaluable for the comptroller of New York City but make for a rather inert lump at the center of a sprawling historical novel. When notoriously corrupt machine politician William "Boss" Tweed shows up in the last few chapters, the reader doesn't know they've been missing him until this point. I also don't have much appreciation for the way Mr. Lee glosses the history that doesn't directly impact his narrative (such as it is). Mr. Green visits a brother in Chicago in 1900. He might as well travel to Cambridge or Calcutta for all the atmosphere Mr. Lee provides. And Mr. Tilden's loss to Rutherford B. Hayes, which would have been a dramatic if not traumatic event in the life of Tilden or anyone close to him, is reduced to a couple of asides. All historical fiction is selective in what it portrays, of course, but I'm not sure the selectivity has to be quite this obvious. Pretty writing, though.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    Incredibly let down. I won this book on a Goodreads giveway and was pretty excited for it. The writing style was not one I would have chosen to read and the story felt like broken fragments of different stories. I wanted to put this book away for good so many times but my need to finish books kept me going. Severely disappointed. The ending was lack luster. DNR.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gary Branson

    Liked the writing best. Story and character development not as engaging.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    4.5 stars

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Hernandez

    “Might our private loneliness, our most crushing inner fears, push us outward, at times, into greater public good” 10/7

  30. 5 out of 5

    LLDW

    Notes to self: To be released mid-June 2021. Link to The Guardian review: https://www.theguardian.com/books/202... Notes to self: To be released mid-June 2021. Link to The Guardian review: https://www.theguardian.com/books/202...

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