I don’t typically judge a book by its acknowledgements, but the Accidental City had pages of acknowledgement so turgid that one suspected they were not driven by genuine gratitude or humility but instead by a swollen pride and self-regard. It was this tone that marred much of the good work in this history of New Orleans from its founding to the Battle of New Orleans. As an example, the author seemed not to trust the reader to remember allusions and characters referenced pages earlier and hence themes and anecdotes were repreated presumably to refresh the reader’s feeble imagination. This is no way to write a history.
The theme of The Accidental City is that New Orleans was an unlikely outcome of conflicting forces and outsized personalities. Very close readings of politically expedient marriages and French court intrigues are this history’s strength. Never was there a more obvious illustration that inner workings at power centers can have profound effects on far flung places like New Orleans, which was at the epicenter of European struggle for dominance among Spaniards, French, and English. The Accidental City is also good at tracing the effect of San Domingo and the slave rebellion of Toussaint L’Ouverture on the whole Caribbean trade.
All in all, I would deem it a solid work marred by a pompous tone and the occasional imposition of a form of cultural analysis decidedly academic, politically correct, and anachronistic.