‘The Great Mistake’ by Jonathan Lee – The Man Who Got Things Done

 

‘The Great Mistake’ by Jonathan Lee  (2021)  –  289 pages

 

I pride myself on knowing a lot about United States history, but I had never heard of Andrew Haswell Green before. Green is the primary character of ‘The Great Mistake’. He was a New York City lawyer and city planner and civic leader, and he was responsible for many of the things New York City is famous for including Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Public Library, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Green was also responsible for consolidating the five boroughs of New York into one city. At the age of 83, he was shot to death outside his home on November 13, !903.

‘The Great Mistake’ alternates between two modes, a fictional biography based on details from Green’s life and the police investigation into the circumstances of his shocking death.

The power of ‘The Great Mistake’ is in its individual sentences. The sentences are subtle and expressive and have a dramatic immediacy that puts you on the side of our hero Andrew Haswell Green. If you are the kind of reader who values fine evocative sentences, by all means read ‘The Great Mistake’.

The concert of barely connected moments that make up any life.”

If you can write lines like that, congratulations, you are a writer.

The entire novel left me quite moved. Our author Jonathan Lee finds the words and the scenes to express truths that are not often expressed. Green was a man who had to overcome circumstances which became all too apparent to him in childhood in order to accomplish what he did. Whether we are aware of it or not, each of us has had a childhood situation which has shaped most of our entire lives. That childhood situation includes:

Our parents attitudes toward us

Our own interests and proclivities

Our relations with our brothers and/or sisters

Other factors

Did anyone in the heavens really believe in him, Andrew Green, this awkward boy below, his spirit, his potential for good? His own question frightened him into muteness, the kind of silence the living rarely know, the moon hanging sullied by smoke in the sky, filthy with the expulsions of men.”

Central Park, New York City

Later Green leaves the childhood farm for New York City.

To be a gentleman in New York, one needed an education. To obtain an education in New York, one needed money. To obtain money in New York, one needed to be a gentleman. The city formed its circles.”

‘The Great Mistake’ was a very poignant and meaningful reading experience for me. Jonathan Lee finds the words and the scenes to express truths that are not often expressed.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

 

4 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting review! This book is popping up everywhere, to wide acclaim. The writing does indeed sound beautiful. It’s difficult to believe that one guy could have been enough of a visionary to accomplish what Andrew Green accomplished. Fascinating story!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Janakay,
      One of the things I should have mentioned is the originality and significance of the story line in ‘The Great Mistake’.
      I just now discovered that I had read and really liked Jonathan Lee’s previous novel ‘High Dive’.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. “The concert of barely connected moments that make up any life.” That is a great line.
    In my case, I’d have to write “The tuneless jingle of barely connected moments that make up any life.”

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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