Strausbaugh (City of Sedition: The History of New York During the Civil War, 2016, etc.) presents a panoramic view of a great city at the height of its power.
In 1940, New York City was a demographic and cultural colossus; far more than today, what happened there mattered. It was the largest city in the world, its port was the busiest in the world, it employed more workers in manufacturing than any other city, and it was the nation's hub for merchandising, finance, media, theater, and fashion. The author, an expert on the history of New York, creates a suitably sprawling portrait of the city and its residents during the first half of the 20th century. Then, as now, it was a city of immigrants; it sometimes seems as though nearly everyone who lived there was, or was the child of, immigrants from central Europe with Anglicized names. In Strausbaugh’s portrayal, Nazi and communist spies, mobsters and politicos rub elbows with Eleanor Roosevelt, zoot suiters, and bobby-soxers, Rosie the Riveter, war profiteers, and draft resisters, with the rumbustious mayor Fiorello LaGuardia roaring around throughout. Short chapters move the presentation briskly along; if one topic fails to engage, another will be along momentarily. The rapid pacing seems to mimic the frenetic energy of the city, while the familiar flow of the era's national and world events provides an orderly structure to the narrative. The parade of colorful anecdotes and character sketches, presented in a brash and sometimes sassy style, makes this an entertaining read. The author makes no claims to insightful social or historical revelation; the book is a pleasant visit to a confident and powerful city helping to lead its nation to victory in a global conflict, conducted by a witty and knowledgeable guide.
A passionate love letter to a city and era that have long since faded away.