I’ve waited a long time for a book like this.
I’ve always wanted to know how New York City became NEW YORK CITY! in its modern day form. How it “came back” from its struggling 70s and who benefitted versus who got left behind. I was hoping for something in scope that could synthesize politics with culture.
Thomas Dyja does that and so much more in a delightfully readable, single volume. Dense but easy to engage with, this book starts from the beginning of the Koch era all the way up to Covid-19 and the George Floyd protests. Along the way, Dyja does a fantastic job at showing how the worlds of art, finance, crime, governance and, sometimes, sports transition the way they do.
New York City’s history is tough to pin down but Dyja does it effectively so in a mere 414 pages. I got insight into how policing shifted, how elites reacted to changes, how art was made and then co-opted and cannibalized by the rich, how Brooklyn (specifically Williamsburg) came to be, how each Mayor leveraged power, rising and falling with the tides.
It’s definitely Manhattan-centric (Staten Island barely gets a mention) and probably focuses too much on the behavior of the elite and creative classes but Dyja knows instinctively that New York City’s perception, for better and for worse, is founded on examining both.
This was cruising to an easy five-star read until the last couple of chapters. The final Bloomberg years aren’t really fleshed out and he gives but lip service to the de Blasio ones. While the histories of those terms are obviously still being written and examined, I would’ve preferred a little more detail. He also closes with his views on what New York City needs to become which, while I found myself mostly agreeing with him, was too broad of a shift away from the central nature of the book.
So it barely misses out on 5-star greatness but for those who want a good history of recent New York, this is the book to read.