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Posts in Reviews
On the (Queer) Waterfront

​On the (Queer) Waterfront

Reviewed by Elvis Bakaitis

On the (Queer) Waterfront is currently on view at the Brooklyn Historical Society (March 6-August 4), and offers glimpses of individual LGBTQ lives from the mid-1800s through the post-WWII period. Co-curated by Avram Finkelstein and Hugh Ryan, the exhibit is based on Ryan's recently published book, When Brooklyn was Queer, which focuses on the borough as a whole, though with a strong anchor (pun intended) to the waterfront.

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Pinstripe Nation: The New York Yankees and American Culture

Pinstripe Nation: The New York Yankees and American Culture

Reviewed by Tony Calandrillo

In Pinstripe Nation: The New York Yankees and American Culture, Baker University professor Will Bishop explores how the success, failure, and attendant drama of the New York Yankees fits into the larger narrative of American culture, and how both the Yankees and that culture constantly mirror each other in the 20th century. In the introduction, Bishop makes this point clearly when he states that “what plays out in our little cocoons of sport is so often a close parallel of what is going on outside of them, only dramatized in a way that frequently makes it clearer.” According to the author, “the narratives that play out in the world of sport often are somehow able to help us better see and understand who we are as a society, what we value, and how we are changing.” For the particular case of the New York Yankees, this mirror narrative sees that the Yankees’ story of success parallels and is interwoven with the narrative of American success in the twentieth century. For his book, Bishop uses the work of Roland Barthes in relation to unspoken communication through symbols to illustrate how the Yankees have been used as an American cultural icon from their rise to national prominence in the 1920s through the end of the twentieth century.

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The Rebel Cafe: Sex, Race and Politics in Cold War America's Nightclub Underground

The Rebel Cafe: Sex, Race and Politics in Cold War America's Nightclub Underground

Reviewed by Burton W. Peretti

Stephen R. Duncan’s new book admirably fills a void in the historiography of 20th century American culture. We long have recognized that between the storied nightclub era of Prohibition days and the age of rock ’n’ roll, there was a perceptible but elusive set of nightlife entertainment venues that kept radical left-wing political values percolating during the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Historians have explored chapters in New York City’s interregnum — David Stowe, for example, covers Cafe Society in the late 1930s, Patrick Burke describes the jazz clubs on 52nd Street, and James Gavin chronicles European-style cabaret — but a comprehensive history, with more of a national perspective, has been lacking. Duncan’s ambitious and wide-ranging work makes a terrific new contribution toward defining the paramount significance of radical and intimate performance venues of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.

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Hudson Rising

Hudson Rising

Reviewed by Kara Murphy Schlichting

What metaphor captures the relationship between the Hudson River, the cities that line its shores, and the people who plie its waters? Is the river a touchstone by which thinkers trace American ideas about nature? Is it an allegory, teaching those humbled in the face of ecological change to repent humanity's role? Is it the exemplar of the declension narrative present in American environmental storytelling? Or is the river more like a battle cry, rallying those committed to environmental activism and resiliency? Hudson Rising, the new exhibit at the New York Historical Society, contends it is all of these things. This deeply researched, thoughtfully presented, and satisfyingly interdisciplinary exhibit introduces the visitor to myriad people who have used and shaped the river, confronted ecological ruin, and turned towards preservation to mitigate degradation.

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Urban Ornithology: 150 Years of Birds in New York City

Urban Ornithology: 150 Years of Birds in New York City

Reviewed by Leslie Day

I lived on a boat on the Hudson River in Manhattan from 1975 to 2011 and it was then that I became an avid birder. Living on the Hudson I watched canvasback ducks with their beautiful red heads arrive each winter in huge numbers in the 1980’s. And I observed them as their numbers diminished greatly after the 1990’s. When I first moved to the river there were many laughing gulls that migrated to the city each April. My father’s birthday was April 12th, around the time they’d show up. The happy sound of their calls would bring me running outside to my deck to look at them and hear the joyous cries — my harbinger of the beautiful warm months to come. By the time I moved away in 2011, there were just a few arriving each spring.

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The Girl on the Velvet Swing

The Girl on the Velvet Swing

Reviewed by Emily Brooks

In The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century, Simon Baatz explores the dramatic and violent relationship between three infamous figures in late nineteenth and early twentieth century New York City. The story of Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, and Harry Thaw, a beautiful young performer, a famous middle-aged architect, and a notorious scion of a wealthy family, respectively, captivated their contemporaries and continues to appeal to historians more than a century later.

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Carol Lamberg's Neighborhood Success Stories: Creating and Sustaining Affordable Housing in New York

Carol Lamberg's Neighborhood Success Stories: Creating and Sustaining Affordable Housing in New York

Reviewed by Nicholas Dagen Bloom

Building and operating subsidized housing in New York City is a tough business. Carol Lamberg, a master at the trade, offers us a candid and nuanced account of the perils and promise of this enterprise in her readable autobiographical account, Neighborhood Success Stories. Lamberg, who served for decades as the Executive Director of the Settlement Housing Fund, helped build the organization into one of the most respected affordable developers and managers in the city, with outstanding multi-family properties in the Bronx and Lower East Side.


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Hugh Ryan's When Brooklyn Was Queer

Hugh Ryan's When Brooklyn Was Queer

Reviewed by Benjamin Serby

“Pick a random book about ‘New York City’ history, and chances are, it will mention Brooklyn… sporadically if at all. The chance that it talks about the queer history of Brooklyn? Nearly zero.” Thus writes Hugh Ryan, a curator and author whose new book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, marks a first attempt at correcting the ingrained Manhattan-centrism of queer studies and recovering the stories of queer Brooklynites in particular.

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New York Sports: Glamour and Grit in the Empire City

New York Sports: Glamour and Grit in the Empire City

Reviewed by Tony Collins

2018 wasn’t a great year for sports fans in New York. It ended with the Jets and Giants finishing last in their conferences, while the Knicks and the Nets spent the 2017-18 season fighting over the keys to the Atlantic Division’s cellar. And, with the exception of the Yankees, baseball and hockey fared little better.

But everyone in the city knows that things will change. This, after all, is the city that pretty much invented modern American sports.


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