Jonathan Lee’s “The Big Mistake”


“The big mistake”

Author: Jonathan Lee

Knopf, 289 pages, $ 26.95

If you’re into historical fiction, you might like this latest book by Jonathan Lee about Andrew Haswell Green, a central figure in the rise of New York City at the turn of the last century. He was known to few but had considerable influence over the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the American Museum of Natural History, and even Central Park.

Some might say that these city icons might not have existed if it hadn’t been for his sparkle and made them burst onto the stage. So why would anyone want to murder Green? Lee creates a great mystery around this dark figure. They called it “the murder of the century” even though the century was only three years old.

Green’s youth was not promising. In fact, his father fired him from Green Hill, the family farm, and banished him to misery in New York City to work as an apprentice in a general store, after seeing the teenager behave in a way that infuriated him. He didn’t want anything to do with his son.

Decades later, Green had created wonderful structural developments on behalf of the city. He was 83 years old. It was Friday, November 13, 1903, when Green was taking a solitary walk home for his lunch. A meticulous guy, he bent down to pick up some chestnuts that someone had thrown on the floor near his home at 91 Park Ave. Green crushed them, slipped them all into his pocket, and walked on. It was to be his last act before he was murdered. A taxi driver reportedly told police he was “dead like a tent stake”.

And so, the puzzle begins.

The police wanted nothing more than to “bring history out of its misery”. Was the murder a mistaken identity? After all, Green was a man known to be “one of America’s great civic heroes.”

The author takes us on a sacred journey and his lively writing never falters. Why was Andrew Haswell Green shot in the early afternoon? This mystery – and Green – will live with you for a long time. The character studies in this book are expertly detailed, if not wonderful.

Lee’s latest novel, “High Dive,” has been voted best book of the year by several prestigious journals and columns.

Mims Cushing lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and has written three books.


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