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Posts in Reviews
The Decorated Tenement: How Immigrant Builders and Architects Transformed the Slum in the Gilded Age

The Decorated Tenement: How Immigrant Builders and Architects Transformed the Slum in the Gilded Age

Reviewed by Paul Ranogajec

Violette’s important book opens a new chapter on urban housing in architectural history and helps the reader understand a whole set of buildings—indeed, whole swathes of the cityscapes of both New York and Boston—that are prominently visible but often overlooked. Amplifying elite architects’ and reformers’ disdain for so-called tenement “skin-builders,” architectural historians have studied in detail bourgeois design but have paid much less attention to buildings built by and for the working class. The Decorated Tenement helps to correct the historical record, treating the immigrant-built tenement commensurate with its prominence in the two cities. It is a timely book for that, even if the author does not explicitly make the connection to today’s immigration debates.

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Suffrage and the City: New York Women Battle for the Ballot

Suffrage and the City: New York Women Battle for the Ballot

Reviewed by Susan Goodier

Just when we thought there simply couldn’t be another thing to say about the New York women’s suffrage movement, Lauren Santangelo presents us with an immaculately researched, well-written book that adds a new and provocative dimension to the topic. At the center of this monograph is New York City itself, with its myriad public spaces and its fascinating complexity, and Santangelo draws us into her rendition of suffragism in the city that never sleeps. Suffrage and the City does not presume to replace the historiography of the movement, but it raises the bar for casting a wide net for sources, for contextualization of a social movement, and for bringing a historical period (in this case, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era) to life. She convincingly argues that the city—Manhattan in particular—is more than a setting; it is an essential part of the drama of the women’s suffrage movement.

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Bad Faith: Teachers, Liberalism, and the Origins of McCarthyism

Bad Faith: Teachers, Liberalism, and the Origins of McCarthyism

Reviewed by Clarence Taylor

For decades, pundits, conservative writers, and political officials have obscured the political and ideological differences between liberals, democratic socialists and communists. It is quite common for both rightwing Republicans and those in the mainstream media to label liberals as the “far Left,” in order to imply their ideas pose a danger to the country. In the 1988 presidential election, for example, George H. W. Bush called his Democratic opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, a “card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union,” equating membership in the ACLU with membership in the Communist Party. Several Republicans and members of the Tea Party have accused former President Barack Obama of being a “socialist.” President Donald Trump has labeled Democrats as “radicals” who have adopted a “far-left agenda.”

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Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan and Jeffrey Escoffier

New York City was for many years one of the world’s leading ports. In the early 1950s, the docks in New York City, by far the country’s busiest, directly and indirectly supplied, according to the City’s Department of Marine and Aviation, livelihood for almost 10% of the city’s population. Nevertheless, even then there were signs of the port’s impending doom. Plagued with racketeering, traffic congestion, and outmoded facilities, the invention of container shipping was the final straw. Without adequate rail and road access and the space to operate cranes and stack containers, most of the port’s Manhattan-based business moved to New Jersey where new container facilities were being built.

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Distant Islands: The Japanese American Community in New York City

Distant Islands: The Japanese American Community in New York City

Reviewed by Olga Souudi

Daniel H. Inouye’s Distant Islands is a richly detailed, extensive account of the lives of Japanese living in New York City between 1876 and the 1930s. Little scholarly work on the lives of Japanese in New York, and on the East Coast in general, exists, either historical or contemporary, and Inouye’s book is a valuable contribution to this underexplored field.

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After the Vote: Feminist Politics in La Guardia's New York

After the Vote: Feminist Politics in La Guardia's New York

Reviewed by Karen Pastorello

Elisabeth Israels Perry has enriched the historical record by documenting New York City women’s activism in the first half of the twentieth century. Inspired by the life of her grandmother, “political influencer” and civic reformer Belle Linder Israels Moskowitz, Perry goes well beyond recounting “firsts” for women and instead offers specific examples of accomplished women — all of whom surmounted a myriad of personal and professional challenges to enter a male-controlled political world. After suffrage was won, women attempted to ascend from their newly acquired position as voters to officeholders intent, for the most part, on advancing a social justice platform for all.

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Suzanne Hinman's The Grandest Madison Square Garden: Art, Scandal, & Architecture in Gilded Age New York

Suzanne Hinman's The Grandest Madison Square Garden: Art, Scandal, & Architecture in Gilded Age New York

Reviewed by Paul Ranogajec

Madison Square Garden was among the premier places to see and be seen in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. As Suzanne Hinman amply documents in her new book, this palace of popular entertainment was truly a modern wonder of architecture and spectacle. Like the old Penn Station (another McKim, Mead and White building that sadly no longer graces the city’s streets) the Garden helped define the aesthetic and social landscapes of New York in the years around 1900.

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The Outcast: A Review of Wright and New York by Anthony Alofsin

The Outcast: A Review of Wright and New York by Anthony Alofsin

Reviewed by Fran Leadon

Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t care for cities. In his 1954 manifesto The Natural House, he advised prospective homebuilders looking for land to “go as far out as you can get . . . way out into the country—what you regard as ‘too far’—and when others follow, as they will (if procreation keeps up), move on.”

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Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin

Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin

Reviewed by Leslie Day

Sonja Dumpelmann’s important history of street trees in two major cities, New York and Berlin, helps us understand their role in not just obvious areas like health and beauty, but also civil rights and women’s rights. It is a unique look at the connections between humanity and trees in dense urban settings.

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City of Workers, City of Struggle

City of Workers, City of Struggle

By Andy Battle

“City of Workers, City of Struggle.” Since its founding, New York has been emphatically both. A new exhibit with this name, up at the Museum of the City of New York until January, communicates the ways in which the shape of the present city — physical, economic, social, and cultural — has been given to us by the cumulative struggles of its workers for material well-being, autonomy, and a dignified life. The main goal, according to lead curator Steven H. Jaffe, is to communicate “just how intertwined the rise of modern New York City is with working people and their movements.”

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