There are 69,381 passenger elevators in this vertically obsessed city, and nearly all of them promise a journey about as exotic and exciting as making toast. You get in, you push a button, the doors open a few seconds later at your destination.
But there remain quite a few machines, manually controlled and chauffeur-driven, where climbing aboard is more like taking a short trip on the Orient Express.
I love the acknowledgments sections of books. I love what they say and what they do not say. I love what they accidentally say. I love the ways families are discussed, and how the truth about the wretchedness of book-writing finally comes tumbling out, and the combination of neuroticism and relief, pride and latent terror.
It is not, however, fashionable to love acknowledgments, and for good reason: Most of them are numbingly predictable in their architecture, little Levittowns of gratitude. The critic Sam Sacks wrote a splendid rant about this for The New Yorker five years ago. “The most radical experimentalist,” he complained, “adheres to the most mindless acknowledgments-page formula.”
In my job as a book critic for this newspaper — a role I leave today; is this why I’m contemplating codas, endings? — I have learned what Sacks means.
“Travelling,” historian Norman Davies writes near the end of this enthralling book, “had allowed me to think freely about the subject I have spent most of my life studying.” From the journeys described in these pages he has confected a fragrant stew of history, literature and travel spiced with digression, detective work and dabs of humour.