Review of The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee
Lee shapes a lovely, tragic, wonderfully detailed story around the forgotten, real-life figure of Andrew Green and his essential contributions to New York at the turn of the twentieth century.
Andrew Green has been shot dead in front of his stately New York City home at the age of 83. He was an elderly man but remained an opinionated spitfire who hadn't felt finished making incredibly significant contributions to society.
The real but forgotten figure of Green was involved in a gloriously and absurdly extensive array of essential projects—the creation of Central Park, the founding of the Met Museum and the Natural History Museum, putting Boss Tweed behind bars, securing a more equitable New York public school system, establishing the New York Public Library, and combining Manhattan with Brooklyn and Queens into a greater New York.
In The Great Mistake, inspectors take into custody the man who shot Green; they work to understand the shooter's odd story and to retrace Green's last steps in hopes of understanding the reason for his death.
But primarily this is a story about a man coming into his own during that time and in that place. The book tracks backward as young Andrew Green struggles to realize his immense potential despite a modest start in life. He constantly feels that he must disguise and push down his personal and professional desires, and this push and pull affects his life path and his intense drive to achieve. Lee's detail is just fantastic in terms of Green's emotions, hopes, dreams, everyday life at the time, and everything else in this epic story.
The Great Mistake feels like a love letter to turn-of-the-century New York and a captivating story.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
The Great Mistake reminds me somewhat of Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow, a book I also adored.
Lee is also the author of High Dive, Joy, and Who Is Mr. Satoshi?