Washington, D.C., President John F. Kennedy once remarked, is a city of "southern efficiency and northern charm." Kennedy's quip was close to the mark. Since its creation two centuries ago, Washington has been a community with multiple personalities. Located on the regional divide between North and South, it has been a tidewater town, a southern city, a coveted prize in fighting between the states, a symbol of a reunited nation, a hub for central government, an extension of the Boston-New York megalopolis, and an international metropolis.
In an exploration of the many identities Washington has taken on over time, Carl Abbott examines the ways in which the city's regional orientation and national symbolism have been interpreted by novelists and business boosters, architects and blues artists, map makers and politicians. Each generation of residents and visitors has redefined Washington, he says, but in ways that have utilized or preserved its past. The nation's capital is a city whose history lives in its neighborhoods, people, and planning, as well as in its monuments and museums.