In travel narratives, in correspondence, in diaries, and even in fiction, travelers to Philadelphia have bequeathed to us a bounty of "as many Philadelphias as there are observers." Philip Stevick's collection of outsiders' observations captures what the visitors thought they saw and how it felt to have engaged the life of the city. Some travelers visited the classic destinations of earlier times, such as the great waterworks complex; others reacted generally to the tone and temper of the city. Together, these accounts fall into patterns that often convey a mythic reading of the city, as a place of uncommon order and symmetry, for example, or a place of great torpor and dullness, or a city extraordinary for the way in which elements of wilderness interpenetrate the metropolitan core.
Stevick finds that the city has inscribed itself on the imaginations of two centuries of visitors in ways that are often compelling but unpredictable, a parallel city to the place on the map and the street under foot, a city of the mind, an imagined Philadelphia.
"Shrewd, detailed, and remarkably thoughtful, the best cultural meditation on Philadelphia in many years."—Carlin Romano