CITY OF DREAMS by Tyler Anbinder
Kirkus Star


The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York
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From the Dutch to the British, featuring a concentration on the waves of Irish and German in the late 19th century, this thoroughgoing work offers a host of immigrant sagas that were integral to the creation of the New York City cauldron.

Proceeding with grand themes such as “Anglicization,” “War,” “Liberty,” and “Refuge,” Anbinder (History/George Washington Univ.; Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum, 2001, etc.) impressively conveys the sense of a city truly forged by the people who were determined to live and work there. He uses personal stories—e.g., by those who made the arduous ocean crossing under horrendous conditions—as well as contemporary maps that illustrate the delineation of neighborhoods by ethnicity, diagrams of the early tenement flats, and charts that record the incredible fluctuating numbers. For example, 950,000 Irish immigrants arrived in New York during the great famine years of the mid-1840s-1850s. Anbinder concentrates on the nitty-gritty details of these difficult early lives in America: their arrival at the immigration and inspection station, harassment by “runners” who tried to swindle them out of their money and luggage, groupings into neighborhoods and wards, overcrowded living conditions in squalid tenement buildings inhabited by most of the poorest new arrivals, and the kinds of jobs the unskilled gravitated toward, including household servants, manual laborers, street peddlers, and grocers. The author also examines the political proclivities of the newcomers—e.g., the support of the crooked Tweed Ring, the “Irish menace,” and recalcitrant Democrats who kept the vote from African-Americans. On the other hand, the tension between immigrants and nativists led to the rise of the Know Nothing Party and the increasing restrictions on immigration, especially against the Chinese. Furthermore, Anbinder gives plenty of room for the stories of the Jews, Italians, African-Americans, Dominicans, and others.

An endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of American history. A fantastic historical resource.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-544-10465-5
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2016


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