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American Passage: The History of Ellis Island Hardcover – June 9, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060742739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060742737
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Using a variety of primary sources, Cannato (The Ungovernable City) describes Ellis Island as a place and as an experience for the approximately 12 million immigrants who passed through it from 1892 to 1924. He follows its reincarnation as a detention center for wartime aliens and as a monument and museum, which he admits may celebrate uncritically "ethnic triumphalism" and upward mobility. Cannato writes that understaffing resulted in only perfunctory screening for mental, physical, and moral traits that might have made newcomers public charges, and he disabuses readers of the fallacy that examiners, rather than steamship officials or immigrants bent on assimilation, changed entrants' last names. With a focus on how "actual people created, interpreted, and executed immigration laws," Cannato maintains that regulation, which sometimes degraded into restriction, formed part of Progressive era reform and growing federal involvement to safeguard what was deemed the public interest. This measured book helps to place in perspective discussions—sure to matter to genealogists and those engaged in political discourse—of Ellis Island and the idea of immigration as a privilege rather than a right. Essential reading.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Mr. Cannato’s writing is vivid and accessible, and his approach is admirably even-handed.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Historian Vincent Cannato appears to have overlooked nothing in telling the tale of the historic island, now a national monument. . . . Cannato is not only a meticulous researcher and historian, he’s also a lively storyteller. A rare combination.” (USA Today)

“Cannato does a masterful job of weaving together a slew of singular immigrant stories with the larger issues that surrounded newcomers. He gives us the politics, the health scares and epidemics, the crowding, the corruption and the public policy.” (The New York Post)

“Cannato navigates the crosscurrents of immigration since the 1700s, illustrating his tale generously with odd facts and highly readable stories.” (Associated Press)

“The story of America is one of immigration. By bringing us the inspiring and sometimes unsettling tales of Ellis Island, Vincent Cannato’s American Passage helps us understand who we are as a nation.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein)

“Reading Vincent Cannato’s American Passage was an amazing journey into our nation’s immigrant past. Never before has Ellis Island been written about with such scholarly care and historical wisdom. Highly recommended!” (Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge)

“Immigration has long been a critical slice of the American narrative, and here, in American Passage, Vincent Cannato tells its story with great brio. From landing point to national Monument, from immigrants to interpreters, we see the veritable Babel of Ellis Island play out across the years.” (Jay Winik, author of The Great Upheaval and April 1865)

“To his great credit Cannato does not pretend to answer our tough questions about immigration, nor to find a ‘usable past’ in the history of Ellis Island. He just tells one heck of a story that oozes with relevance.” (Walter A. McDougall, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Throes of Democracy)

“Although Ellis Island is about immigrants from far-away places, it is in fact as American as Thanksgiving and apple pie. This amazing story is recounted beautifully in Vincent Cannato’s well-written and evocative book, which will bring pleasure and profit to readers.” (Kenneth T. Jackson, editor in chief, Encyclopedia of New York City)

“Cannato resists the temptation to setimentalize Ellis Island. He understands that, now as then, immigration is an issue that leaves Americans uncomfortable and contentious, even as it continues to bring new blood and energy into the country.” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 19 customer reviews
It is beautifully written and superbly researched.
David M. Sherman
I suggest that any one interested in U.S. History, the progressive movement, or the ongoing immigration debate read this book.
M. A. Ramos
I originally bought the book because I met the author briefly at a local wine tasting event.
Rosemary Aronson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David M. Sherman on July 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Professor Cannato has created a remarkable work of history. It is beautifully written and superbly researched. Cannato reshapes your views on Ellis Island without preaching or taking a one-sided view of history. The reader is never overwhelemd yet the depth of research is remarkable; stories of individuals (their triumphs and tragedies) adds to the cogent research.I enjoyed the chapter structure; wonderful, grabber introductions, fascianting, detailed body of work, and conclusions that help the reader wrap up the main points. Informative, well-written, and a myth buster....This is the way history ought to be written. Bravo.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on June 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like many in this country I am the descendant of folks who crossed the ocean in steerage, and then made it safely through Ellis Island, which is the subject of this excellent book. When I read of all the requirements that were put onto those hoping to enter this country, I am extremely grateful that I am here today and not planting potatoes somewhere in Poland.

The book goes through the entire history of Ellis Island, from its first incarnation as a place to hang criminals, through its various stages of immigration reception, through the many changes and renovations made to it, and finally to the tourist attraction (and national treasure) that it is today.

I had occasion to take my wife, two of my chilren, and my two granddaughters to Ellis Island a few years ago, and I was in awe of the place, and couldn't believe what my forebearers had to go through so that I could be there observing. Using the computers there, we were able to find my father's father, and my wife's mother's father, and learned how and when they arrived on our shores.

The book says that names weren't changed by officials there, but I tend to disagree. My grandfather's name was Appolinarious (sp?), but it was changed to Paul at Ellis Island. It's easier to say, because in Polish his name is pronounced much differently than it is written above.

We should all take some time out to see this place, and then stop to admire and thank our ancestors for having the courage to come to a new land and raise their families.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. C Sheehy on August 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Vincent Cannato does a wonderful job of demystifying Ellis Island and in American Passage does a wonderful job of showing how Ellis Island was a metaphor for the battle regarding what constituted America's immigration policy and what resulted in the restrictive policies of the post WW I era.

Cannato shows that the vast number of immigrants of the Ellis Island era, while not from the preferred parts of Europe like earlier immigrants, were by and large hardworking individuals who sought to have their own little piece of the American dream. The great struggle regarding which group should be admitted and which group should not is mapped out in epic detail. He also does a wonderful job at demonstrating the internal political struggles that beset Ellis Island during its peak years of operation.

Cannato also shows that not all the immigrants who came into the country during this period were of ideal motives. Where the book tends to drag is that it draws too much from leaders and senators and does not offer a balanced view by showing successful immigrants. However that does not stop this from being a very interesting story and an interesting read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary Aronson on August 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Vincent Cannato recants the history of Ellis island with captivating passages and intropective reflection. I originally bought the book because I met the author briefly at a local wine tasting event. In a reading lull, I started the book and immediately was transformed to the 1800's and the difficulties and politics that surrounds "coming to America". This is not your high school history book. The personal stories of the immigrants plight to escape oppression and/or to find happiness and a better life in America is intergrated with the politics of the era that eerily echos those of the present day.
A totally interesting read that surprised me with it's pathos,accuracy and insight. A must read if you have ancestors that came through Ellis Island or are just interested in reading a very down to earth accounting on how the immigration process evolved.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James E. Thayer on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ellis Island's story is as vast and diverse as the multitude of immigrants who passed through the island's gates; but Dr. Vincent J. Cannato, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, is a scholar more than equal to the task of writing an epic history. In the pages of American Passage, our nation's most iconic immigration-processing facility bustles anew with activity; and the voices of the myriad thousands who crossed the oceans in search of better lives in the United States again echoes throughout the island's long-silent corridors. The poor, the wealthy, the oppressed--indeed all humanity--are represented in Cannato's story, which combines superb research, on-target analysis, and exquisite prose within a compelling narrative that proves impossible to put down. Immigration is as important to American history as the "shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington; and the most visible symbol of that truth, Ellis Island, now has a scholarly counterpart in Cannato's American Passage. Appealing to both scholar and layperson alike, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island will undoubtedly assume its proper place as the definitive interpretation in Ellis Island historiography, and will certainly be one of the landmark studies in immigration scholarship.
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