The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee review – the man who shaped New York

Blunders, bad luck and ever-yearning love in a novel about the extraordinary life and death of an unsung hero

In a quiet corner of New York’s Central Park, there is a stone bench streaked with bird droppings. It’s an unassuming memorial for the “Father of Greater New York” – Andrew Haswell Green (1820-1903), a man the clamorous, roiling city has largely forgotten. It was AH Green, a lawyer and civic powerhouse, who championed the creation of Central Park, and the five-borough infrastructure that gave New York its modern shape. No legacy is immune from pigeon poo.

At the time, the borough plan – a consolidation of a dozen satellite towns into a single megacity – was reviled as much it was celebrated, publicly denounced in 1898 as “The Great Mistake”. Jonathan Lee’s novelisation of Green’s life, written in the south-east borough of Brooklyn, steals its title from this historical outrage; a tale of blunders, bad luck and fateful misunderstandings.

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