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May 27, 2003
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First Resorts

Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island

"At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Saratoga Springs hosted no more than a thousand hardy travelers yearly, Newport floundered in the midst of a fifty-year commercial decline, and Coney Island's beach resembled a wind-swept wilderness. A hundred years later, the number of summer visitors to Saratoga had increased a hundredfold, the antics of high society at Newport transfixed America, and at least five million pleasure seekers visited Coney annually. 'Those who talk of the mushroom growth of our Western cities,' declared an astounded writer for Harper's Weekly in 1878, 'might better spend their wonder and enthusiasm upon our Eastern watering-place.'"—From the Introduction

In First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island, Jon Sterngass follows three of the best-known northeastern American resorts across a century of change. Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island began, he finds, as similar pleasure destinations, each of them featuring "grand" hotels where visitors swarmed public spaces such as verandas, dining rooms, and parlors. As the century progressed, however, Saratoga remained much the same, while Newport turned to private (and lavish) "cottages" and Coney Island shifted its focus to amusements for the masses.

Fifty-nine illustrations enliven Sterngass's unique study of the commodification of pleasure that occurred as capitalist values flourished, travel grew more accessible, and leisure time became democratized. These three resorts, he argues, served as forerunners of twentieth-century pleasure cities such as Aspen, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

About the Author

Jon Sterngass is a visiting assistant professor at Union College.


"Jon Sterngass has written an engaging, creative book replete with evocative illustrations and witty quotes... a pleasant read."

- Thomas A. Chambers - New York History

"Having mined every conceivable source about his three sites, Sterngass has presented a wealth of interesting material not only about the resort experience but also about the residents, politicians, and entrepreneurs who built them. The book is handsomely illustrated with a large number of marvelous pictures and photographs."

- Cindy S. Aron - Journal of American History

"Sterngass writes about these resorts with the grace of a journalist, and he has clearly surveyed the popular published material of numerous observers."

- Theodore Corbett - American Historical Review

"The book's in-depth look at three significant features of the nineteenth-century American leisure landscape provides concrete examples of otherwise elusive cultural trends and developments. It will be required reading for historians of American leisure, and of great interest to social and cultural historians more generally."

- Scott C. Martin - Journal of Social History

"Sterngass's impeccably researched, elegantly written, and handsomely illustrated volume 'examines three quintessential American resorts across the sweep of an entire century'... Thought-provoking and reassuringly well-documented."

- Bryant F. Tolles Jr. - Winterthur Portfolio


"Jon Sterngass's First Resorts is to cultural history what Roland Barthes's Système de la mode was to fashion: a fiercely intelligent, scrupulously researched and beautifully crafted account of how nineteenth-century Americans went in search of health, rest, and diversion, and, in the process, invented holiday destinations as 'virtual holy centers for a secular society.' Erudite, inventive, and engrossing, Sterngass's analysis of three paradigmatic resorts uncovers unsuspected depths, complexities, and significance in social practices all too often dismissed as 'frivolous' and 'marginal.' In short, First Resorts should be first on reading list of everyone who is worn down by fatigue, work, and the futile race with time."

- Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, coauthors of The Beach. A History of Paradise on Earth

"Sterngass's discussions about privacy, community, commercialization, consumption, leisure, and the desire to be conspicuous are important and new. With its well-chosen illustrations, this is a handsome book as well as an important one."

- Kathryn Allamong Jacob, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

9780801876967 : first-resorts-sterngass
Electronic book text
384 Pages
$40.00 USD

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