There's No Place Like NoMad

April 15, 2020

Ten NoMad-Related Books to Transport You Out of Your Apartment in This Time of Social Distancing

Mark Twain once said, “Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.” Books have always had the unique ability to take us to places and times different from our own. Whether they provide sheer escapism or interesting counterpoint to our own situation, they never cease to provide a wealth of entertainment, adventure, and enlightenment.

As New York City and NoMad are transformed by the times in which we live, it’s fascinating to visit NoMad in its other incarnations throughout history. Below is a reading list of books in which NoMad plays a central role, supporting character, or rich backdrop both in fact and fiction.

If it’s hard to focus right now on reading, several of these are available in audio-book format.

1. Jennie: The Life of the American Beauty Who Became the Toast – and Scandal – of Two Continents, Ruled an Age and Raised-Winston Churchill-Who Shaped History

by Ralph G Martin

This book is about the noteworthy life of Jennie Churchill, Winston’s Brooklyn-born mother. It covers days from her New York origins through her ascent to society in England. Jennie grew up in NoMad’s Jerome Mansion at the corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street and later became a prominent figure in both the United States and Great Britain. Historically renowned as Winston Churchill’s mother, this strong, direct woman’s own story is truly remarkable.

2. Master of Electricity – Nikola Tesla: A Quick-Read Biography About the Life and Inventions of a Visionary Genius

by Cynthia A. Parker

Nikola Tesla helped bring our world into the Age of Electricity. This short biography covers Tesla’s life, including the time when he lived in NoMad at the Radio Wave building on 27th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Tesla would often demonstrate his latest inventions at Madison Square Garden (then at 26th and Madison). This book sheds light on someone who literally helped to influence and shape the way we see things today.

 

3. The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century

by Simon Baatz

This New York Times best-seller follows the sensational murder of famed architect, Stanford White. Key moments of this drama play out in NoMad – from White’s 24th Street townhouse, the site where chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit rendezvoused with White, to the climactic scene on 26th Street at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop. Read about the “Trial of the Century” in this true American crime story.

4. Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks

by Miriam Berman

Written by the unofficial historian of Madison Square, this in-depth history of Madison Square Park and its surrounding area is rich in scholarly detail and provides the broadest and deepest history of our area.  It portrays how much NoMad has evolved in the last century, and how much of its historic character remains intact. The book’s multitude of photos, illustrations, and short stories capture the excitement of the area and its changing role as the city developed. It is a delightful diversion for anyone who loves NYC, which is evidenced by how hard it may be to find a copy of this NoMad gem.

 

5. Tin Pan Alley: An Encyclopedia of the Golden Age of American Song

by David A. Jasen

Tin Pan Alley, the stretch in NoMad of 28th Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue, is famous as the center of popular music publishing during the early 20th century. Among the writers who worked in Tin Pan Alley are George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Dorothy Fields, the Gershwins, and Scott Joplin. This encyclopedic read delves into the music, its songwriters, and publishers who were selling pop music to America and beyond, indelibly changing the sound and direction of music.

 

6. The Age of Innocence

by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton grew up on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, and was married at St. Sava Church (then Trinity Chapel) on Broadway and 25th Street. Who better to write about New York society in the Gilded Age? This novel by Wharton was her twelfth and it won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, making her the first woman to win this prestigious prize. The Age of Innocence withstands the test of time: a century later, it’s more relevant and engaging than ever.

 

7. Two Moons

by Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon’s romantic, historical fiction novel about Cynthia May, a Civil War widow working with astronomer Hugh Allison as they butt heads with Senator Roscoe Conkling, an obstacle to their scientific life pursuits. In it, Conkling frequents NoMad’s storied Hoffman House, one of the grandest Fifth Avenue hotels of the time.  The book includes a vivid account of Conkling’s flight uptown in a snowstorm, his collapse on 25th and Broadway, and his death at the Hoffman House. Mallon artfully weaves historical details into a compelling story giving his fiction a veracity that resonates through time.

8. Satan’s Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York’s Trial of the Century

by Mike Dash

The notorious New York neighborhood, Satan’s Circus, a square mile running from Broadway to Seventh Avenue above 25th Street, overlapped with much of what we know now as NoMad. Known for its vice and depravity, Satan’s Circus is ripe for the story of Charlie Becker, known as an upstanding policeman, who is rumored to be the most crooked cop the neighborhood has ever seen. A murder trial with Becker at the center attempts to reveal his true nature.

 

9. The Grandest Madison Square Garden: Art, Scandal, and Architecture in Gilded Age New York

by Suzanne Hinman

Like its home of New York City, Madison Square Garden has had multiple incarnations. Its second incarnation in NoMad at Madison Avenue and 26th Street, and designed by famous and infamous architect Stanford White, is the centerpiece of Hinman’s book. It not only explores the story of the iconic building’s construction, it takes a closer look at the personal lives of White and the noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the statue of Diana that graced the top of the building’s tower. Hinman brings the dynamic era to life through architecture, arts, and the artists of the age.

10. The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

by Suzannah Lessard

Great-granddaughter of Stanford White, Suzannah Lessard provides an uncompromising lineage of the family lines that lead to the birth of one of the world’s most distinguished architects. White’s architectural legacy can be found in NoMad, with his own history abruptly ending in his own murder at the old Madison Square Garden at Madison and 26th Street – a building he designed. Lessard’s detailed portrait of her forefathers and contributing families’ social codes come into play in her own life, as she reveals a lineage and family mores that may appear to be genteel, but manifest themselves in ways that are much more complex.

It is certain that the times in which we live will give birth to innumerable stories – fact, fiction, and somewhere in-between. As history overtly plays out in our daily lives, it can be a welcome diversion and reassuring to read about a familiar neighborhood and its familiar characters through the lens of another time.