Michelle and James Nevius are walking encyclopedias of New York City, and they're more than happy to school you in every step you take and every nook you may have otherwise overlooked. Michelle holds two master's degrees from Columbia, and James is a graduate of NYU (as well as an 11th-generation New Yorker). Their walking tours showcase their extensive knowledge, and now they've put it all down in a book, Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, which includes 14 (free) walking tours of various neighborhoods in the city, and 182 little chapters jam-packed with facts. This week they told us a little bit abut how they became such experts, Buddy Holly's home in the Brevoort apartments, and the only old-growth forest left in Manhattan.

When did you start giving tours, and why? Our interest in exploring New York started avocationally—we would just grab a guidebook and go out to find something new. Michelle’s academic background is in art history and archaeology and James’s interest in New York comes from studying his family roots (he’s a 10th generation descendant of the last secretary of the City of New Amsterdam). It became apparent to us at a certain point that we’d studied and learned enough that we could share our love and knowledge of the city with an audience. We’ve been giving tours professionally for about 10 years now.

Are there any neighborhoods you haven't given tours of but would like to? We’d love the excuse to spend more time in Brooklyn than we do. We are sometimes asked if we can give tours of neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brighton Beach, and Park Slope. Right now we haven’t done the intensive research necessary to do any of those areas justice, but it would be great to spend more time exploring them.

How did the book come about, and what was the biggest challenge in putting it together? One of the questions we often get asked on tours is, “Where can I read about all the great things I’ve just seen?” And while we’re happy to provide off-the-cuff bibliographies of books and articles for further study, most people who ask that question are really hoping we’ll recommend one good, concise history of the city. Since we didn’t think that book existed, we decided to write it ourselves. Moreover, we wanted a book that reflected our specialty as tour guides, so every story or vignette in Inside the Apple is tied to a place you can visit.

The biggest challenge the book presented was to make sure that we were getting all our facts straight. We pride ourselves on giving tours that are pretty rigorously researched, but even so it can be easy when presenting information orally to forget a date or mix up a story. We wanted to make sure before committing these tales to print that we had done due diligence and verified everything. We also didn’t want to simply repeat pieces of conventional wisdom. We write in the book about Chumley’s in the West Village; it’s a common story that the term to “Eighty-Six” something came from the address of the speakeasy’s back door. (To eighty-six the customers was to throw them out the door when the cops raided.) The only problem with that story is that the term was clearly in use before Leland Chumley ever created his bar. We wanted to use Inside the Apple to set the story straight about that and other common New York myths and misconceptions.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Manhattan was originally settled? New York is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, marking four centuries since Henry Hudson—an employee of the Dutch East India Company—sighted Manhattan on his abortive trip up the river in search of the Spice Islands. But it took 14 years before the city got its first permanent residents. Between 1609 and 1624, European traders came to the Hudson River to exchange with the local tribes for beaver pelts, but these Dutch merchants never felt the need to create a year-round outpost. In Inside the Apple, we argue that one of the things that forced the Dutch to occupy Manhattan was the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620. A major facet of the Pilgrims’ story that is left out of the traditional Thanksgiving narrative is that they weren’t heading for Massachusetts at all—they’d been sent to Manhattan, which the English considered to be at the northern border of Virginia. When the Mayflower ended up in Plymouth instead, the Dutch realized they better stake a firmer claim to their territory in the New World; thus, it wasn’t too long until a Dutch West India Company was formed and Manhattan had its first permanent settlers.

What is your favorite bit of historic NYC knowledge? We love seeing the layers of history that accumulate in a neighborhood—or even in a specific place. We probably don’t have one favorite piece of knowledge, but just as an example, we were writing a blog entry this week about Charles Lindbergh and the Orteig Prize—the $25,000 cash prize that was awarded to the first person to fly from New York to Paris. The prize was awarded by Raymond Orteig, who ran the Brevoort Hotel on Lower Fifth Avenue. That is a fascinating spot: Henry Brevoort, the original landowner, is the person who was so powerful that when the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan created the Manhattan street grid, a block of East 11th Street was removed to satisfy Brevoort. (There’s a story that it was done to spare Brevoort’s favorite tree; that may be apocryphal, but the street certainly stops at Broadway and starts up again at Fourth Avenue.) Built in 1851, the Brevoort Hotel was originally one of the finest in the city, but by the time Raymond Orteig was running it, the hotel had already begun its slow decline and no amount of publicity surrounding Lindbergh’s achievement could save it. By the time it closed in the 1950s, it was being advertised as a 1/2-star hotel. It was torn down and replaced by the Brevoort apartments; one of the apartment building’s first tenants was Buddy Holly, who moved in with his new wife right before the plane crash that took his life in 1959.

Are there any secret spots left in the city? The city is full of places that seemingly few people know about or visit. It’s kind of amazing to walk through the area in Inwood Hill Park known as the Clove—the only tract of old-growth forest left in Manhattan—and be the only person there. Even in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the city’s most visited attraction, there are Asian galleries and American period rooms that are blissfully empty and make you feel like you are intruding on someone’s private collection.

If I had just one day here, and it was my first time visiting, what should I do? Take the subway to South Ferry and begin walking north, using Broadway as your main thoroughfare, but being willing to take side streets when they look interesting. Just doing the walk from Battery Park to Union Square is illuminating, taking you through the Financial District, Civic Center, TriBeCa, Chinatown, SoHo, and Greenwich Village in less than three miles. Then hop on the subway and go up to Central Park to explore the area from 59th Street to Bethesda Terrace. Exit the park at Strawberry Fields and take the B train down to Rockefeller Center, which is the best skyscraper complex in the city, and enjoy the view from Top of the Rock. Walk from there to Times Square, get tickets to something fun at TKTS, and see a show. Go home. Collapse.

In 24 hours, the world will end—how do you spend your last day in NYC? Load in weapons, food, and medicine to protect us from the zombies that will surely soon take over the city. Oh, wait a minute, is that I Am Legend?

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. We were walking down Perry Street when we saw a long line of people waiting to have their photos snapped in front of the façade of the house used as Carrie’s in Sex and the City. A block away, we passed Mary’s Fish Camp and who should be sitting there at the table by the window but Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. We had half a mind to go in and tell them to leave as fast as possible before the mob approached. Not, perhaps, a “strange” story—but certainly only in New York.

Which New Yorker do you most admire? DeWitt Clinton, our mayor and governor between 1803 and 1828 was a remarkable man. Without him, the modern city would not exist. It was under his guidance that the Manhattan street grid was developed, regularizing and promoting the city’s expansion; as governor, he fought for the creation of the Erie Canal, which assured New York’s place as America’s premier seaport; he had City Hall built—today the oldest seat of city government still in use in the USA; and before the War of 1812, he was responsible for the harbor fortifications that ultimately persuaded the British not to attack us, which in turn put the city on excellent footing as a trading city after the war. He should get a holiday.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? New York has got to learn better how to balance preservation and development. Too often now, it plays out as this Hegelian dialectic between the Big Bad Builders on one side (that’s you, Bruce Ratner) and the Preserve-It-At-All-Costs crowd on the other. New York has always been a city of development—Philip Hone complained in the 1839 that “[t]he whole of New York is rebuilt about once in ten years,” so thinking that all new buildings are terrible is counterproductive. However, has Jane Jacobs taught us nothing? The city and its developers need to think hard about what it is that makes New York great and work with residents and preservationists to make certain that new projects don’t obliterate the city’s unique character.

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? If Manhattan loses its middle class to rampant development, it could lose people like us, too. Luckily, we have recessions every once in a while.

What's your idea of a perfect day of recreation in New York? We love being outside and we love the depth and breadth of live performance in New York. A day that starts with a jog along the Hudson, includes delicious ethnic food, and ends with a concert or dance performance or play is pretty terrific.

Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? James got to have a nice chat with Alan Ginsberg at a Bob Dylan concert not long before the poet died. He was extremely self-effacing and clearly having a great time seeing Bob perform.

What's your current soundtrack? The last four Bob Dylan studio albums are on shuffle play right now; it’s amazing that he keeps improving with age.

Best cheap eat in the city. Alan’s Falafel cart in Liberty Plaza. Hands down the best falafel in the city.

Best venue to hear music. We just saw our first show at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the acoustics were phenomenal. The Nokia Theater in Times Square (once upon a time the Astor Plaza movie house) also has great sound and excellent sightlines. And another favorite spot is under the stars at Battery Park during the River to River festival.