Monday, January 4, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: City of Dreams: The 400-year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder

My history/historical fiction book group has chosen City of Dreams: The 400-year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder for our next discussion.

This book is long. 


The title of the book is a good summary of what the book is about. Anbinder provides a well-researched, exhaustive look at immigration to New York City, starting from the initial Dutch colonists and proceeding up through the current day. Statistics are interspersed with more personal anecdotes to give the flavor of the immigrant experience. The book is informative rather than analytical. It focuses more on what pulls immigrants to the U.S. (economic factors, freedoms) than on what pushes them out of their countries of origin (although the Irish potato famine, pogroms against Russian Jews, and poverty in general are given consideration.) There are references to major historical events (the Civil War, the Great Depression, etc) but this is not a book about American history so context is a bit sketchy. 

There is an immense amount of data in the book. The anecdotes do help to move the narrative along and provide human interest. However, in general a lot of the information washed over me as the details of successive waves of immigration grew repetitive. The research that went into this book is impressive and it provides a strong overview of immigration in New York City, but it’s a difficult book to read in a chunk.