Blog Archive

Questions for the Reporter: We ask Sam Roberts about 101 Objects


A pink “Spaldeen” ball, a bagel, a yellow checker cab… which objects do you think of when you try to distill New York in to 101 Objects? Inspired by a project done by the BBC and The British Museum that told the History of the World in 100 objects, Sam Roberts saw the opportunity to tell the history of our eclectic city in 101 objects.

Sam Roberts's latest book takes a look at the history of New York through 101 pivotal objects.

We are so excited to welcome Sam Roberts to the Tenement Museum as he discusses his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects in conversation with writer Kevin Baker. Roberts has been the New York Times Urban Affairs Correspondent since 2005 and is the author of several other books including  Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America. The New York Historical Society has gathered some of the 101 Objects and they are now view in a special exhibit until November 30th.

We were so excited to welcome Mr. Roberts to the Tenement Museum to discuss his book that we could not resist asking him for a bit more information about the project and his own history with New York.


You have an obvious love for the city, what is your favorite New York neighborhood to stroll? Is it your own? When did you first fall in love with this particular piece of New York?

My favorite to stroll in is the Lower East Side because it is so vibrant, so diverse, in such constant flux and so rich in history and I’ve loved it ever since my parents first took me there shopping from Brooklyn as a kid. My favorite activity is getting on the subway and getting off at a stop I’ve never been to before and just walking around, or even one I haven’t been to in a while. You’re always bound to discover something new about New York.

A History of New York in 101 Objects is a definitive and fun factual guide to the city. If you were to suggest a novel that conveys important information about the New York what would it be?

A trick question! I love the novels of Kevin Baker, Pete Hamill, Caleb Carr, Jack Finney’s “Time and Again,” Dos Passos, Ed Doctorow, Jimmy Breslin (uh, oh, whom did I leave out?). Through prodigious research, they and other novelists capture the richness of the city, its history and its characters and what makes it so distinct from every other city I’m familiar with.

I know you had to winnow some of the myriad possible objects, which were most reluctant to let go?

Times readers suggested hundreds, many of them ingenious: Delaney cards that teachers used to keep as seating charts and record your grades, a Bella Abzug hat, and, of course, every variety of pizza.

Several of the objects you chose also represent a turning point of some aspect of New York. Was there are moment in your history with the City when your feelings for New York shifted or changed- be it new mayoral administration or a previously undiscovered block or even a really good meal?

I witnessed the underside of New York through some of its worst years in the 70s when I was city editor of the Daily News. I was always buoyed by the perspective that we had had the grit to make it through tough times before and, in the late 80s and 90s, and after 9/11, was heartened by New Yorkers’ resurgence and resilience.


Thanks Mr. Roberts!

Come learn more about A History of New York in 101 Objects on Wednesday at 6:30pm at our Free Tenement Talk where the book will be on sale with a special 15% off discount.  See you there!

–Posted by Julia Berick,  Marketing and Communications Coordinator