Exploring New York: Past, Present, and Future | Social Sciences Reviews

Thomas Dyja writes an engaging social history of New York. Jelly-Schapiro's entertaining book draws attention to how places are named. The latest by Craig Taylor will delight armchair travelers.

New York New York New YorkredstarDyja, Thomas. New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation. Norton. Mar. 2021. 544p. ISBN 9781982149789. $30. HIST
Fiction (Meet John Trow) and nonfiction (The Third Coast) author Dyja offers a detailed chronicle of events from the most recent four decades (1978–2020) of New York City history. Having graduated from Columbia University, and having since lived and worked in New York City for decades, Dyja is highly qualified to create this work on the city he considers to be the greatest in the world, with careful explanation of the city’s history of urban renewal. The author is opinionated, but his research is staggeringly thorough, and his interpretation of major events, such as the September 11 attacks, and insight into prominent governmental figures, like Mayors Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Bloomberg; Governors Andrew Cuomo and George Pataki; and even Donald Trump, will resonate with and appeal to most who are even somewhat familiar with the city and its history, and will educate those who are not. VERDICT This engaging book has the potential to become a classic text, thanks to the detailed work and references that have gone into its creation. Recommended for libraries in larger institutions or for others with an interest in New York or urban studies.—Steve Dixon, State Univ. of New York, Delhi

Names of New YorkredstarJelly-Schapiro, Joshua. Names of New York: Discovering the City's Past, Present, and Future Through Its Place-Names. Pantheon. Apr. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9781524748920. $22. HIST
In this latest work, writer Jelly-Schapiro (Island People) brings awareness and keen insight to how places in New York City were originally named, with occasional discussion of areas outside the city. He begins with landmark and street names derived from Lenape words. Along the way, he also offers an accessible overview of Local Law 28, which, among other mandates, allows for "co-naming" streets and corners without having to change official maps. The author brings both impressive detail and rich history to his exploration of a variety of naming conventions, such as those taken from the landscape or terrain, names referencing the role of the street or the vocations of its inhabitants, streets commemorating historical events, and more. A lot of ground is covered but it never feels like something is missing from this wide-ranging work. The narrative also addresses historical figures (such as George Washington) who spent time in New York, and their namesake landmarks (e.g., the George Washington Bridge). VERDICT While toponymy, or the study of place-names, may appear to be an overwhelming topic, Jelly-Schapiro's writing is informative, accessible, and entertaining. He is engaging throughout, and will leave readers thinking twice about the place-names they encounter on a daily basis.—Rebecca Kluberdanz, Central New York Lib. Resources Council, Syracuse

New Yorkers A People In Its TimeTaylor, Craig. New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time. Norton. Mar. 2021. 432p. ISBN 9780393242324. $30. HIST
Taylor (Londoners) moved to New York City in January 2014, and proceeded to interview approximately 400 people who lived or worked in the city over the course of the next six years. The recorded interviews were later transcribed, and of those, 75 are published here. Although the author's personal narrative creates a framework and context for the book, its main thrust is the raw and unedited words of the people he interviewed. It could be argued that these words, taken as a whole, present a portrait of the "real lives" of people in 21st- century New York City; a city whose residents experienced the horror of 9/11, endured the hardships brought about Hurricane Sandy, and suffered extensively with the tragedy of COVID-19. This intriguing book loosely arranges into 15 sections Taylor's interviews with construction workers, building owners, nurses, salespeople, bodega workers, artists, parents of incarcerated people, people experiencing homelessness, and many others. It creates a fascinating picture of a city that can be loathed and hated, yet admired and revered at the same time. VERDICT A varied book that will appeal to armchair travelers and others curious about New York. Highly recommended for public libraries as well as large academic libraries the world over.—Steve Dixon, State Univ. of New York, Delhi

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing