Thursday, April 7, 2016

Q&A with Mark N. Ozer

Mark N. Ozer is the author most recently of Philadelphia: Persons and Places. His many other books include Boston: Persons and Places and Baltimore: Persons and Places. A former professor of neurology at the Georgetown University Medical School, he is based in Washington, D.C.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Philadelphia in your latest book?

A: I had always wanted to write about the great cities on the eastern seaboard. I had written about Baltimore and Boston. Philadelphia seemed next.

I had wanted to tell the story of each as they had evolved in the 21st century but Philadelphia was unlike Boston in that it had not become a center for universities to the same extent.

I wondered what had made a city as large as Philadelphia so little noted in the large scheme of things since it had lost its political prominence after 1800. It still was noted for its history and its great flowering in the 18th century.

Q: What surprised you most in the course of your research for the book?

A: I realized that what was unique about Philadelphia was the abdication of the Quaker elite from politics starting in the mid-18th century. The long term Republican Party control of the political life wherein reformist public life could not thrive. Lastly there was the strength of the clubs. Henry James particularly liked the city in the early 20th century because it "had a settled air" about it.

Unlike Boston, it had been settled by people who did not honor learning to the same extent; the University of Pennsylvania, unlike Harvard, was not supported by the elite. They supported Princeton.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: In the 19th century, the economic life of the city was based on coal and iron; the 1876 Centennial was its hallmark.

New York grew larger as a commercial city because of its superior port and its attraction to the teeming masses of the Old World.  New York had always been primarily a commercial city and would remain so. The next book would finally tackle New York.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Mark N. Ozer, please click here.

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