Perimeter by James Boorstein is an urban history of Manhattan Island seen from its outermost edge.

For hundreds of years, until the 1930s, the waterfront was the economic, cultural and romantic center of the island city. In the generation since it has been ignored and abandoned–reaching its lowest ebb in the early 1990s.

Perimeter’s structure is a counter-clockwise walk, not on streets but along the actual line where land meets the water. The book is about breathing the air and simply seeing what is there. From bridges to ferries, granite river walls to muddy stores, Perimeter examines America’s evolving vision and relationship to its urban waterfront and related history.

Perimeter also incorporates historic personalities beyond the well-known legends of Peter Stuyvesant and Tobert Moses, people who were deeply involved in the city and paid attention to the less traveled edge; Stanley Isaacs, Manhattan borough president (1938-41) wrote a long poetic letter to his wife in 1925 about walking around the island:

“I found the trip decidedly stimulating. I never had a more interesting picture of what New York is, and stands for, and I do not know how to get as good a picture in any other way.”

Perimeter is about relentless change and how things stay the same.


A few topics in PERIMETER:


  • Cornfields, cowboys, cattle drives, shanty towns and homeless encampments

  • Chubby Point, Hoorn’s Hoek, and Treacherous Jeffrey’s Point

  • Navigating the FDR Drive without a car, the last trolley in New York State

  • Horse-powered ferry service, local oysters twelve inches across.

  • Landfill, sinkholes, springs, glaciers, and the ice trade

  • The largest human-made explosion on earth, the biggest brewery in America

  • Maude Sargent, John Finley, James R. Smith, and Helen Worden

  • The riverfront origins of New York’s greatest park

  • The United Nations, Tap water and the Harlem Ship Canal

  • Barbecuing over burning library books, prisons and walking

  • The deadliest accident in New York’s history—more than 1,000 dead in one hour

  • The origin of the term New Yorker and eating an eel in one gulp