ALL THE NATIONS UNDER HEAVEN: An Ethnic and Racial History of New York City by Frederick & David Reimers Binder

ALL THE NATIONS UNDER HEAVEN: An Ethnic and Racial History of New York City

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A history of New York City as varied as the metropolis itself, focusing on the immigrants who throughout the centuries have harkened to America's call and remade New York in their own image. Historians Binder (College of Staten Island, CUNY; The Age of the Common School, 1974) and Reimer (New York Univ.; Still the Golden Door, 1985, etc.) trace New York from its earliest beginnings as a Dutch colony in the 1600s, when it was America's major port, to its present-day status as cultural mecca of the world. Nowhere has the vast diversity of the American populace been more in evidence than in New York City, assert the authors: The first and often final stop of Irish, German, and Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe's poverty and wars, this ragged little island off the Atlantic coast has served as a veritable birth canal for the nation's development. According to Binder and Reimer, New York showed signs of its multiethnic character from the very beginning under the Dutch, who were ""tolerant of religious refugees, ethnic and linguistic minorities, or political exiles."" Tolerance didn't mean acceptance, but the benign force of early market capitalism, which valued profit above prejudice, insured that religious minorities like Jews and Catholics would be allowed all increasingly larger role in the American franchise. That dynamic, though not always benign, has survived to this day, reemerging during the recent waves of Asian and Caribbean immigration. The authors deftly juxtapose the experiences of various immigrant groups, explaining how a particular culture's mores and idioms aided or hindered its assimilation into American society. What they do not do is bring these powerful cultural, economic, and social forces to life in the everyday experience of individuals, focusing instead on the larger interplay of communities, cultures, and groups. Informative, but a little more human interest would have given color to all those historical and social generalizations.

Pub Date: July 6th, 1995
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.