I still can't believe this book never existed before. It is the most perfect idea. First, I have to out myself as one of the people who helped fact-check the entries. But I would have loved this book regardless. Like every good diary it gives wonderful, intimate snapshots of everything from small personal moments (kissing in a darkened theatre) to world events (war and 9/11). Except in New York Diaries you are getting the best of four centuries worth of diarists (God I envy Teresa Carpenter's time researching this book).
I'll be forever haunted by this one story that emerged in the diary of a pre-NYPD police inspector named William Bell. In accordance with the evil Fugitive Slave Act, which had only recently passed, Bell helped return Henry Long back to his "owner" in Virginia. A large group had gathered to prevent it, but Bell and 200 policemen did their terrible job and Long was put back into slavery.
The book is laid out according to the calendar year, but spanning 1609 to 2009. So for any day of the year you might see entries from 1871 or 1935, and so on. William Bell's entry for instance, from January 8, 1851, is surrounded by entries made by people like George Washington. The next day has an entry from ballet dancer Toni Bentley. What ends up happening is: every day you read gives a visceral sense of the sweep of time. Some things change, some things don't, it's like this forever undulating wave of experience and you can jump in on any day.
Big history, little history, it's all wonderfully mixed up together. This book is a treasure.