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Knickerbocker's History of New York

Washington Irving

Book Overview: 

Washington Irving, an author, biographer, historian, and diplomat, completed his first major work, a satire of contemporary local history and politics entitled A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker in 1809. Prior to its publication, Irving started a promotional hoax (not unlike some modern-day publicity stunts?) by placing fake missing persons advertisements in local newspapers asking for help in locating Diedrich Knickerbocker. As a continuation of the hoax, Irving also published a notice purported to be written by the proprietor of the hotel where Knickbocker was staying, in which he threatened to publish a manuscript “left behind” by Knickerbocker if the hotel bill was not paid. From “The Author’s Apology”: “The main object of my work, in fact, had a bearing wide from the sober aim of history, but one which, I trust, will meet with some indulgence from poetic minds. It was to embody the traditions of our city in an amusing form; to illustrate its local humors, customs and peculiarities; to clothe home scenes and places and familiar names with those imaginative and whimsical associations so seldom met with in our new country, but which live like charms and spells about the cities of the old world, binding the heart of the native inhabitant to his home.” - (Summary by lubee930 from the text and adapted from Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .men of the countrey whether they had any treacherie in them. So they tooke them downe into the cabin, and gave them so much wine and acqua vitæ that they were all merrie; and one of them had his wife with him, which sate so modestly, as any of our countrey women would do in a strange place. In the end, one of them was drunke, which had been aboarde of our ship all the time that we had been there, and that was strange to them, for they could not tell how to take it."[24]

Having satisfied himself by this ingenious experiment that the natives were an honest, social race of jolly roysterers, who had no objection to a drinking bout, and were very merry in their cups, the old commodore chuckled hugely to himself, and thrusting a double quid of tobacco in his cheek, directed Master Juet to have it carefully recorded, for the satisfaction of all the natural philosophers of the University of Leyden—which done, he proceeded on his voyage with great self-co. . . Read More

Community Reviews

I was inspired to read this after plowing through Elizabeth Bradley's new book "Knickerbocker," which tracked the influence of Irving's writing on the culture of New York City in the 19th century. In hindsight, I should have just stopped with Bradley. Irving's sense of humor doesn't really transl...more

I would have liked this more if I was more knowledgeable about the colonial history of New Netherlands, but that tends to get set aside for the more exciting revolutionary history that followed it. However, Irving's semi-informative parody of New York and overblown histories retains plenty of hum...more

Irving's lampoon and serio-comic retelling about the creation and governing of New Amsterdam is damn funny. The prose style takes a little awhile to get use to, but Irving's keen sense of humor shines through, making him the Jon Stewart of his age. The incompetence of government, the fumbling str...more

When you pick up a written work by Washington Irving, read it and then attempt an evaluation of the whole, it’s a little like critiquing Gennaro Lombardi on how he made pizza or trying to improve upon a Stradivarius violin. It can’t be done, it should not be! One may annotate on such, but not, at...more

Not a real history; more a satire loosely based on real people and events.

Some parts drag on too long and some of the jokes are a little obscure. Others of the jokes have aged very well. I laughed out loud every few pages, and kept marking juicy passages. If you like Mark Twain, you'll probably l...more

I absolutely adored Irving's burlesque New York history. His explanations about the beginning of the world are very funny, and his observations around the Dutch colonists are quite amusing. Told in the persona of Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving creates a fictitious view of New York's early times....more

This is apparently the first comic American novel ever. I don't know how much of that ended up coloring my view, giving it 4 stars instead of maybe 3. There is definitely some very funny stuff in here - social commentary, fake history, perspectives on history, etc. But I felt the book dragged a b...more

Considering when this was written the book is surprisingly fresh and funny. As a historian, I especially liked the way he poked fun at historians and their feelings of self importance. Unfortunately, the jokes started to seem repetitive and I found myself counting the pages to the end.

I'd recomme...more

This must be the 1800s equivalent of watching 14 straight hours of the daily show: unending satirical tangents. It's about 200 pages too long and a bit too clever for its own good. Boo.

This book is an absolute riot, and a thorough satire. There's a lot to enjoy here, but there also isn't a whole lot of variation, making this the kind of book that's best spread out rather than read straight through.

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