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Dreamland Paperback – January 3, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kevin Baker's Dreamland is the kind of novel that begins with a two-page list of characters and ends with a nine-page glossary. In between, this vast, sprawling carnival of a book takes in Coney Island and the Lower East Side, midgets and gangsters, Bowery bars and opium dens, even Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. It is, in short, a novel as big, lively, and ambitious as Gotham itself, and if you can stomach some of the more garish local color, it's every bit as much fun. Set at the turn of the century, in a New York as polyglot as any city on earth, Dreamland opens with an act of misplaced--and very stupid--compassion. Eastern European immigrant Kid Twist intervenes when villainous gangster Gyp the Blood is on the verge of murdering a young newsboy for sport. But surprise: that's no street urchin--that's Trick the Dwarf, self-proclaimed Mayor of Little City and a Coney Island tout, who dresses up as a boy, he says, as "a way I had of leaving myself behind." Trick hides Kid Twist in the hind parts of the Tin Elephant Hotel; Kid Twist meets Esther Abramowitz, impoverished seamstress and labor agitator, then falls in love; Trick woos Mad Carlotta, a three-foot beauty who thinks she's the Empress of Mexico; and Freud and Jung sail for America, where they squabble about psychoanalysis. There are also a few subplots involving police corruption, Tammany Hall, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire--but who's counting? Suffice to say that it all really does come together in the end, and you won't be bored for one step of the way. Baker served as chief historical researcher for Harold Evans's The American Century, and it's clear that he put his time there to good use; Dreamland is full of vivid historical detail, from Lower East Side slang to the lyrics of popular songs. If this is middlebrow entertainment, it's middlebrow in the same way as Dickens: extravagantly plotted, elegantly written, and compassionate to the core. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Taking place in turn-of-the-century New York City, Baker's splashy novel features gangsters, midgets, feminist strikers, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, Freud's trip to America and the infamous Triangle Factory fire. It's a powerful, deeply moving epic, an earthier, rowdier, more inclusive Ragtime that rings beautiful changes on the familiar themes of the immigrant experience and the unfulfilled promise of the American Dream. Baker juggles subplots that reflect different ethnic and cultural realities: resilient, independent-minded sweatshop seamstress Esther Abramowitz rebels against her caustic Russian-Jewish ex-rabbi father to become a union organizer; Irish-American state senator Big Tim Sullivan, a corrupt Tammany Hall boss, rules the city through bribes, gangs and cops on the take; hoodlum Gyp the Blood (aka Lazar Abramowitz), who is Esther's estranged brother, puts out a hit on her boyfriend, Kid Twist (Josef Kolyika), an Eastern European refugee who arrived as a stowaway on the same ocean liner that, in this scenario, brings Freud and Jung to New York on a trip to promote psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, over in Dreamland, the vast Coney Island amusement park, the philosophically minded Trick the Dwarf courts another sideshow attraction, Mad Carlotta, a midget who thinks she's the Empress of Mexico. Baker, author of the baseball novel Sometimes You See It Coming and chief researcher on Harry Evans's The American Century, gives readers amazingly vivid renderings of the criminal underworld, prostitution, machine politics, Jewish immigrant life, the nascent women's rights and labor movements. Cultured Old World elitism comically collides with raucous democratic America as Freud gets lost in Harlem, has bizarre erotic dreams, falls out with Jung and has a nasty adventure in Dreamland. The churning subplots do get creaky (e.g., Esther's implausible love for a gangster), the colorful seediness often seems like gratuitous crowd-pleasing and the novel walks a tightrope between romantic sentimental fantasy and hard-boiled realism. Nevertheless, one is tempted to call this grandly entertaining saga some kind of populist masterpiece, as Baker gauges the myth of the egalitarian American melting-pot against the corruption, economic exploitation and racism of a cutthroat society. 100,000 first printing; $300,000 ad/promo; audio to HarperAudio; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Printing edition (January 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060852720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060852726
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kevin Baker (born 1958) is an American novelist, historian, and journalist. He was born in Englewood, New Jersey, and grew up in New Jersey and Rockport, Massachusetts.
He has been a professional writer since the age of 13, working originally for the Gloucester Daily Times, Gloucester, Mass., as a stringer covering covering school-boy sports. He had to learn to type to keep the job. He graduated from Columbia University, where he majored in political science, in 1980.
Baker is the author of the forthcoming novel, The Big Crowd (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), a work of historical fiction about political corruption and one of the most infamous mob murders in New York City history. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming Reggie Jackson memoir, Becoming Mr. October, due out in October, 2013, from Doubleday.
Baker's "City of Fire" trilogy, published by HarperCollins , consisted of the following historical novels: Dreamland (1999); the bestselling Paradise Alley (2002); and Strivers Row (2006)--all concerning critical moments in the history of New York and America. Paradise Alley was the winner of the 2003 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction, and the American Book Award.
Other works include a contemporary baseball novel called Sometimes You See it Coming (1993, Crown), and the graphic novel, Luna Park, illustrated by Danijel Zezelj (DC Comics, 2009). Baker was chief historical researcher on Harold Evans's illustrated history of the United States, The American Century. He is also the author of America, The Story of Us (Melcher, 2010), the companion book to the History Channel series of the same name, and wrote the new final chapter for the reissue of Baseball, the companion book to Ken Burns' 10-part film, "Baseball," which has aired on public television.
Baker resides in New York, where he is a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine. He was formerly a columnist for American Heritage magazine and the New York Observer, and is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Military History, and many other periodicals. Baker has appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal and The Colbert Report, and is a member of the board of the Society of American Historians, and the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Library Binding
After I had read "The American Century" and found that Kevin Baker was responsible for the bulk of the research on that fine book, I wanted to read his new work of historical fiction, "Dreamland." I'm glad I did. Not since I read Caleb Carr's "The Alienist" a few years ago, have I enjoyed a novel as much as this one. Baker is able to bring the reader nearly to tears as he details the travails of young women trying to make it from day to day in New York, either as workers in one of the sweatshops on the lower east side or, unfortunately as one of the prostitutes every night putting her life in jeapordy in the Tenderloin or on the other mean streets of that heartless, corrupt, and sad, very sad city. The section detailing the days spent in jail by the striking women is especially chilling. The inclusion of Freud and Jung is compelling not so much for the interpretation of their work, but rather for the hint of progress that would be made in the years to come in the field of psychoanalysis. Other critics have harped on their inclusion in this work, but I found their conversations stimulating. How they end up in Dreamland at the end of the book with the other colorful and larger than life characters in this inspired work-Kid Twist, Gyp The Blood, the Mad Carlotta, Esther, Trick the Dwarf, Tim Sullivan-is deliciously presented. I thought that the inclusion of Frances Perkins as the sole upper class liberal fighting vainly with limited success to stem the tide of worker abuse allowed the author to speak through her character and graphically describe the carnage enveloping the poor young ladies of that era. No wonder FDR made her his only Secretary of Labor.Read more ›
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Format: Library Binding
With key characters named Trick the Dwarf, Kid Twist, Gyp the Blood and the Mad Carlotta, it is tough not to become enthralled by this book. The author does an outstanding job of placing you in New York at the turn of the last century and the sights, sounds, and smells of lower Manhattan, Coney Island, and the Bowery make this book come to life. Several key chapters are so compelling, I read them over and over to ensure I got every last nuance. The introduction of historical fact as part of the story is an interesting device that worked well and led me to do further reading on early theme parks, gangland life in New York, and the origins of the labor movement. This is one of the better works of fiction I have read lately and I am not the least bit disturbed that a film adaptation is already in the works.
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Format: Library Binding
I really wanted to like this book. I'm a glutton for information on old New York and have read a lot about the time period in question: early 20th century New York.
Don't get me wrong. There were some terrific plots evolving throughout this book. I loved the character of Esther, the labor organizer who turns her back on her father, a man who richly deserves her disdain. I enjoyed the love affair between Esther and Kid Twist and the fascinating scenes of Coney Island. I never understood before reading this book that the fascination with the jostling rides was the pleasure it gave men and women who were looking for any excuse to engage in inappropirate behavior. There is much to learn from this book which is exquisitly researched.
But for every enjoyment, there is a corresponding disappointment. The plot involving Freud and Jung was tedious and inconsequential, at least in my eyes. It could easily have been eliminated with no problem. I know the author would argue vociferously with that because he intended the book to be ambitious and filled with ideas and not just some setpiece full of fluff. Fair enough. But for me, his ambition did not pay off.
Sometimes, shorter is better and this book would have benefited with fewer characters. One more note: The author really copped out in the end on the romance between Kid Twist and Esther. Maybe nothing felt right when he was writing the ending but, to delve into every possible historical and emotional detail between these two characters and then to say, "Well, anything could have happened. I'm not sure what did" is one of the biggest copouts I've ever come across in a novel. The reader is very letdown. Given the dark material of this book, it's not like we were expecting a happy ending, just a definitive ending. We were invested .
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Format: Library Binding
I haven't read much in the past ten years that stayed in my consciousness long after I read the last page. I found this an extremely compelling and well written fiction. My fondest hope is that it will be "discovered" in paper and reap the attention it deserves.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having read SOMETIMES YOU SEE IT COMING, one of the best baseball books I've read, I was interested to know if the Kevin Baker who wrote DREAMLAND and PARADISE ALLEY was the same person. It's the same guy, but Baker has the chops to do both, as he is the chief historical researcher for the NEW YORK TIMES.

As I began to read, I was immediately reminded of several other books. AMERICAN TRAGEDY, THE ALIENIST, THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, and even CLOCKWORK ORANGE. The setting is New York City with Coney Island featured most of the time. There are gangsters and factory girls and Tammany Hall politicians and they all speak their own unique language, some Yiddish and Bowery slang. Thankfully I checked out the back of the book. Sure enough, there was a glossary. You'll be paging back and forth for the entire read.

There really isn't any main character, but Esse Abramowitz; her brother "Gyp the Blood;" Esse's lover Josef Kolykia, alias "Kid Twist;" and Tammany Hall politician Big Tim Sullivan do most of the heavy lifting. Trick the Dwarf tells the story. There is a dramatis personae provided at the beginning to help you keep track.

The plot begins when Kid Twist saves Trick the Dwarf's life at a Rat Bating by nailing Gyp the Blood with a shovel. For the rest of the book, Gyp the Blood is out to get Kid Twist. A subplot involves Esse Abramowitz's increasingly involvement in the Labor movement. She also works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co., and if you're up on your history, you know what happened there.

I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Trick the Dwarf suggests what MIGHT have happened to the major actors, rather than telling us. There's also a subplot involving Sigmund Freud that seems to be included just to add some historical credence.
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