I should admit right off the bat that I have a rather substantial bias when it comes to this week’s read. Modern New York, a veritable handbook for the state of the city’s economy over the last 50 years, was written by Greg David, onetime (and longtime) editor for Crain’s New York Business, where I’ve spent the last eight years of my employed life. Not only was Greg instrumental in the shaping of Crain’s—stories of his reign, laced with professional admiration of his unique management style, still circulate the newsroom—but he was fairly instrumental in my career, which is to say that without his faith in a completely inexperienced Fordham grad (who majored in the rather vaguely labeled “Media, Culture & Society”) I might not have the writing chops/Internet knowledge/general confidence in my own awesomeness that make it possible for me to ramble to you people today. (Also, I was footnoted!)
Since I have the unique advantage of knowing the author this week, I feel it would be rather wasteful not to at least give you all a vague impression of Greg’s almost frightening credibility. Although I was doubtless easily intimidated at 19—during my mother’s first visit to my office in 2005, I debated for 10 minutes introducing her to Greg, for fear of interrupting his day—an additional seven years of professional experience have done nothing to diminish my respect for the man. As an editor, he could read your story in five minutes and point out three questions you’d missed entirely; as a manager, his no-nonsense attitude was (I believe) the source of a lasting respect from the staff; and as a teacher (which he has been for the last several years, at CUNY’s graduate school of journalism) I hear tell that he downright inspires his students, which is a tall order in today’s less-than-journalism-friendly world of post-graduate-school ambitions.
Outside of his impact on others, Greg also has an uncanny (read: borderline insane) ability to remember stories from years ago, down to the author and sometimes the headline. He rattles off facts about complicated subjects the way I might list contestants on the latest season of The Bachelor, and I have yet to find a subject related to New York City or business news about which he does not have a formidable amount of knowledge. Also, he (like I) watched Project Runway long after everyone else had given it up, which shows a measure of loyalty I don’t think should go unmentioned.
In any case, Modern New York—whose writing and compilation has been the Great Greg David Undertaking of the last few years—answers, in a compact and accessible 217 pages, the #1 question I get asked by people who aren’t familiar with Crain’s: “So….what do you guys write about?” The answer, as diverse as the two-dozen beats covered by our staff of half as many reporters, is spelled out in the book’s 16 chapters: Wall Street, yes, but also every subject matter that might be relevant to New York City’s economy (which in many cases, particularly with respect to the financial sector, is intimately connected with the nation’s economy as a whole.) Modern New York touches on the financial crisis of 2008, the decline of manufacturing in a city born of it, the explosion of immigration, the birth of a technology sector in a finance/media/fashion town, the loss of the Olympics, the dubious trend of rebuilding pretty much every major stadium or convention center in the city, and much more.
If I’m making that sound boring, I’m not doing Modern New York justice. Certainly over the years, I’ve gained an appreciation of business news that has perhaps immunized me to some of the more mundane elements of it—both of my parents have told me they find the subject matter of my employment rather dry—but Greg does an impressive job of interspersing his matter-of-fact narrative with statistics, quotes and anecdotes. This book is well-researched—in addition to the 20-odd pages of end-notes, I happen to know one of the fact-checkers personally—and it shows.
Of course, my bias doesn’t only extend to the book’s author. In reading Modern New York, I found myself also rather wistful about the subject matter. Being of an age roughly 20 years below that of the average Crain’s reader, I have spent the last few years of my life trying (sometimes in vain) to impress upon peers or acquaintances the import—even, at times, the excitement—of New York City’s economy. Though many 20-somethings appreciate the advantages of a town that offers everything from Yankee Stadium to Coney Island, I have in my time at Crain’s grown equally appreciative of the diverse hydraulics that actually keep something this big and complex running relatively smoothly.
New York is like one of those miniature ecosystems you make out of a 2-liter soda bottle in fifth grade; somehow, despite its scale, it manages to provide a home for every demographic, walk of life, industry and profession. I have long had a certain admiration for the sheer momentum of this place—a refusal to stop moving that triumphs over everything from blizzards to 9/11—but Modern New York reminds me that the bigger miracle of this city isn’t necessarily in its handling of crises, but rather that, even on its best day, NYC is an operational Goliath. Visitors often leave after a weekend in town with a profound exhaustion, or sense of having rushed for 48 hours straight; Greg’s book has a parallel effect: After reading it, there is literally no amount of money in the world that could make me want to be mayor of this town.
Rarely do I use this blog as a mouthpiece to promote books in which I have a vested interest, mostly because a) I don’t know many authors and b) I don’t exactly have a wide audience of influential readers (though I love you all the same.) But writing a book is some hard freaking work, and I’m incredibly happy that someone I know and look up to was able to do it. I suppose in a selfish way, this book is also an affirmation that the content around which I’ve centered the last eight years of my professional life is important, and I am all the more wise and capable of non-television-related conversation for having had the opportunity to work on it. So in a way, you guys have Greg David to thank, too. I may not have turned into the all-star Lois Lane reporter I was in my head at age 16, but I did learn more in six months under Greg’s intimidating tutelage than in my entire four years studying “Media, Culture & Society.” I’m a better thinker for it, and a better writer. So today I will use my humble platform to make a plea: Buy this book. Or the terrorists win.
TITLE: Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City
AUTHOR: Greg David (I know him!)
PAGES: 217 (in hardcover)
ALSO WROTE: TBD (I’m sure he’ll strike again.) Also, this blog.
SORTA LIKE: An almanac of Crain’s New York Business, with Greg David flair
FIRST LINE: “On a wet and depressing winter day in February 2009, over 1,000 New York executives crowded into the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown.”