Article by Willard Manus

The third edition of this invaluable guide to the Big Easy, NEW ORLEANS YESTERDAY AND TODAY offers historical background, personal advice, suggested walking tours and human interest, all having to do with one of America's best-loved and most-visited cities.

Written by Walter G. Cowan, Charles L. Dufour, John C. Chase, O.K. LeBlanc and John Wilds, the pocket-sized book explores every corner of the city: the river, Canal Street, The Vieux Carre, The Garden District, The Cemeteries, The West Bank and The Suburbs. After painting brief but vivid portraits of these places, the authors compare past with present, adding the kind of personal touches that only homegrown portraitists can offer.

The city's origins were not pretty. It was not only a slave center but a cesspool. "More than one contemporary writer called New Orleans the filthiest city in the United States. Unpaved streets were lined with open drainage ditches, which stank from an accumulation of human excrement, dead animals, and kitchen slops.
Lumbering wagons collected the night soil from outdoor privies and hauled it to a nuisance wharf, where it was transferred to barges and dumped into the Mississippi River," writes John Wilde (in a chapter headed Yellow Fever.)

After living through just about every kind of epidemic imaginable, everything from yellow fever to malaria to the bubonic plague, New Orleans finally began to attack its problems. Improved sanitation and medicine (and the end of the Civil War) led to economic development (especially as a port) and, finally, cultural ferment. "Throughout the 19th century, New Orleans established itself as a musical center for opera and concerts, but with the turn of the 20th century, jazz began its evolution from the folk melodies and rhythms of the slaves into a new and original art form, which eventually became international."

Today, most visitors come to hear New Orleans music, eat Creole-influenced food, and prowl antebellum streets and parks. The city is easily accessible and enjoyable, but anyone wishing to experience New Orleans in depth would do well to pick up a copy of this nifty little guidebook.

(Lousiana State University Press, 296 pages, $16.95 ppbk)