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Twenty Minutes in Manhattan

The walk from my apartment in Greenwich Village to my studio in Tribeca takes about twenty minutes, depending upon the route and whether I stop for a coffee and the Times. Invariably, though, it begins with a trip down the stairs.

And so sets out architecture critic Michael Sorkin on his daily walk from his home in a Manhattan old-law-style tenement building. Sorkin has followed the same path for over fifteen years, a route that has allowed him to observe the startling transformations in New York during this period of great change. Twenty Minutes in Manhattan is his personal, anecdotal account of his casual encounters with the physical space and social dimensions of this unparalleled city.

From the social gathering place of the city stoop to Washington Square Park, Sorkin’s walk takes the reader on a wry, humorous journey past local characters, neighborhood stores and bodegas, landmark buildings, and overlooked streets. His perambulations offer him—and the reader—opportunities to not only engage with his surroundings but to consider a wide range of issues that fascinate Sorkin as an architect, urbanist, and New Yorker. Whether he is despairing at street garbage or marveling at elevator etiquette, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan offers a testing ground for his ideas of how the city can be newly imagined and designed, addressing such issues as the crisis of the environment, free expression and public space, historic preservation, and the future of the neighborhood as a concept.

Inspired by Sorkin’s close, attentive relationship to his beloved city, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan is in the end a valentine to the idea of the city that ultimately offers a practical set of solutions that are relevant to not only the preservation and improvement of New York but to urban environments everywhere.

272 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Architecture: American Architecture

Travel and Tourism: Travel Writing and Guides

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"In his delightful book, Sorkin writes about New York from a flaneur’s perspective. Focusing on a 20-minute walk from his apartment to his studio, the author—one of architecture’s most consistent and consistently interesting critical voices—meanders through architecture, urbanism, sociology, politics and history. . . . Quirky, erudite, and occasionally frustrating in its movement between the personal, the political, and the physical, every city should have its Michael Sorkin."

Financial Times

"Architecture critic and CUNY professor Sorkin sets out with the simple task of narrating the daily commute from his Greenwich Village apartment to his studio in Tribeca. The result, a book of essays that's both memoir and sociohistorical study, is anything but pedestrian. . . . Delightful and informative, this romp will please anyone with affection for the big city."

Publishers Weekly

"The trove of thumbnail sketches and obscure facts is augmented with fascinating ruminations about the socio-political ins and outs of the business of construction and urban renewal in New York City, the intricate socioeconomic consequences that result, and the ethical ramifications of these undertakings."

James Sclavunos | Times (UK)

"If you want an introduction to what has been said and thought about the city around the world, and also what has been built and unbuilt as a result of all this theorizing, this is probably as good a guide as can be had. Follow Sorkin on his walk, and you will certainly be better informed and perhaps a bit wiser as well."

Joseph Rykwert | Architects' Journal

"No one writes better about architecture and urbanism in the United States than Sorkin. He is a tireless campaigner against cliché . . . perhaps his most personal book to date."


"Sorkin has long been the bad boy of architectural criticism."

New York Observer

"Sorkin is fascinated by the myriad ways architectural details foster or inhibit community, neighborliness, safety, diversity, and intimacy. Sorkin has a light hand with history (he is never overbearing) and a worldly way with facts and anecdotes."

Los Angeles Times

"This book captures architect Sorkin wandering through lower Manhattan, where even the most banal-seeming sights send the author into casually fascinating digressions about urban planning, the history behind New York’s grid, stoops, and parks. After looking at the city through this ambler’s eyes, you’ll never look at a tenement building--or a stairwell--the same way again."

Time Out New York

"His architecture criticism is best understood as a series of jazz solos. In each chapter, Sorkin takes a structure or a place and riffs on it, taking the theme to unanticipated places, his lifetime of experiences as architecture professor, practitioner, critic, and world traveler all informing his work."

Daniel Brook | Next American City

"With this book Michael Sorkin secures his claim to succeed Jane Jacobs . . . . He brings to bear an eye every bit as acute, a pen nearly as trenchant, and a political understanding perhaps a little bit more sophisticated of the never-ending struggle over New York’s neighborhoods."

Times Literary Supplement

"Sorkin's architectural criticism can be smugly iconoclastic, but this is a wry and illuminating provocation: New York seen from the perspective of the author's daily stroll from his Greenwich Village apartment through Washington Square to his office in Tribeca. Along the way enjoy reflections on the privatization of public space, the uses and abuses of preservation, the ambiguous legacy of modernism - ultimately, all the strands of urban life."

John King | San Francisco Chronicle

"His observations about buildings, parks, urban design, and city planning should inspire anyone who cares about the future of cities."

Philadelphia Inquirer

"The architecture critic turns his walk from his apartment in Greenwich Village to his studio into an erudite but utterly engaging reverie on the nature of cities."

Paul Goldberger | New Yorker

"Originally intended as a ’low-keyed memoir of the everyday,’ Twenty Minutes in Manhattan delivers a far from mundane cache of urban insights."


"Lively and thought-provoking. . . . Would anyone really trust the ruminations of a self-styled New York expert were he not obstinate, curmudgeonly, and opinionated?"

Julia Galef | Metropolis POV

"Ideas and ideals aside, what’s most engaging about Sorkin’s text are the personal anecdotes. New Yorkers will surely sympathize with a long rant against his landlord, the frustrations of navigating sidewalks littered with people blindly texting, or the memorable grumble, 'I look forward to spitting on the first [Subaru Tribeca SUV] I see and yelling "asshole" at the driver.' Lacking illustrations, the book is nevertheless highly visual, thanks to Sorkin’s colorful stories and precise descriptions of the journey."

John Hill | Architect's Newspaper

"This walk through the city shows Sorkin at his witty and knowledgeable best. From the stairs of his small apartment house to the pyramids of Chichen Itza, from Local Law 45 to the motto of the Hanseatic League, Sorkin takes us on a journey through eras and worlds in the space of just 15 blocks. Better to spend 20 minutes with him than 24 hours with a standard tourist guide!"

Sharon Zukin, author of "Naked City"

"I am glad Sorkin doesn't take the subway: this is the most brilliant epitome of Manhattan ever written."

Mike Davis

"Not since the great Jane Jacobs has there been a book this good about the day-to-day life of New York. Sorkin writes like an American Montaigne, riffing freely off his personal experience (sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating) to arrive at general insights about New York and about cities everywhere."

Robert Campbell

"Sorkin comes from a neighborhood of great urbanists—Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Grace Paley—and he belongs in their company. A short walk with him through the West Village turns into an adventure. He is one of the smartest and most original people writing about New York and about city life today."

Marshall Berman, author of "On The Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square" and coeditor of "New York Calling"

"…offers a potpourri of personal…observations on the urban environment gleaned from his daily 20-minute walks from his home near Washington Square to his Tribeca office.”

Paul Glassman | Library Journal

Table of Contents

The Stairs

The Stoop

The Block

Washington Square

LaGuardia Place


Canal Street


145 Hudson Street

Alternative Routes

Espri d’Escalier

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