This is a book that doesn't quite know what it wants to be: there are notes in it as if it is academic, but it's not a particular rigorous read nor does it take any point of view. It begins as a historical and chronological narrative but shifts gears midstream and turns to a topical approach that quickly leaps centuries and back again. Toward the end, it becomes a tourist guide book (There's a brief chapter called "Directions in New Orleans") and then a compilation of lists ("noted personalities" and "statues and monuments" and "hurricanes") that are of dubious use or interest and without context. In addition, there are some cringeworthy passages in which Widmer appears to suggest the lives of the slaves or New Orleans were ok because they were allowed to gather in dances, and they were fed, and they could hire themselves out for pay. On a basis relative to the rest of the South, that may well be true, but Widmer's patronizing tone made it sound as if the slaves were not only lucky but happy-go-lucky in their bondage. In addition, Widmer makes a half-hearted attempt to rescue the reputation of General Butler, the Civil War occupier, but her argument is not particularly persuasive and has been made better by others.
That said, Beautiful Cresent is not without virtue. Widmer unearths some wonderful historical tidbits (the famous whore called "La Sans Regret") and her writing is breezy and workmanlike, if not particularly poetic. Notwithstanding its pretensions to academic scholarship, this is a fair high-level overview, at least until it devolves into tour guide and book of lists.