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The Ungovernable City [Kindle Edition]

Vincent Cannato
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Vincent Cannato takes us back to the time when John Lindsay stunned New York with his liberal Republican agenda, WASP sensibility, and movie-star good looks. With peerless authority, Cannato explores how Lindsay Liberalism failed to save New York, and, in the opinion of many, left it worse off than it was in the mid-1960's.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"[Being mayor is] like being a bitch in heat. You stand still and you get screwed, you start running and you get bit in the ass," wrote John Lindsay in his 1976 roman … clef, The Edge. Elected in 1965, Lindsay was an unlikely mayor of the Big Apple: a liberal Republican and a Yale graduate, he was good-looking, sophisticated, patrician and Protestant, in contrast with former mayors who, modest in background and appearance, more closely resembled the average working New Yorker. Cannato's biography as much about New York, postwar electoral politics and "the decline of the city and the crisis of liberalism" as it is about Lindsay himself portrays a politician who valued reform over party lines, intelligence over cant, and who ultimately failed (some claim spectacularly) with the best intentions. Lindsay's mayoral career was a political obstacle race: on his first day in office, the city's transit workers went on strike; within months, to ward off a dire financial deficit, he instituted a city income tax; in the summer of 1967, racially charged riots broke out citywide and Lindsay battled the police over a civilian review board. Then, in 1968, antiwar protestors took over Columbia University, which was already at war with its neighboring black community. Lindsay weathered these fights with some success, was elected for a second term, became a Democrat and then found that his career was over. Cannato, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, has written an exhaustive and nuanced, compulsively readable narrative, salted with measured, on-target judgments. By far the best work to be done on Lindsay, this biography is an important contribution not only to the literature on New York City but to the broader fields of urban and political studies.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Fate snubbed John V. Lindsay, the two-term mayor of New York (1966-73). A liberal Republican, Lindsay aspired to be his party's JFK, but his approach and timing were out of sync both with his party and the nation. Like LBJ, whose botched Vietnam policy parallels Lindsay's attempts at urban reform, the mayor was haunted by dreams of greatness. He made a gallant effort to expand his sphere of leadership, but the predictable political backlash doomed him to failure. In his first book, Cannato, a scholar in U.S. history and adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, traces the Lindsay political disappearance to a failed liberal ideology. His is an ambitious work that integrates Lindsay's biography with a modern history of New York City. Ironically, the author's approach mirrors that of the mayor he liberally critiques it displays more style than substance. Despite the superficial explanations, this is a readable and useful book on modern New York politics. Recommended for public and academic libraries with urban collections. William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 7095 KB
  • Print Length: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (July 21, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001RCU2D0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,840 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Late Great City of NY October 30, 2001
By A Customer
My parents left the East New York section of Brooklyn in the mid 1960's. They moved to Long Island were I grew up. They always cursed John Lindsay. After reading this book I now know why. Vincent Cannato shows in brilliant fashion how Lindsay was in the wrong place at the wrong time. While Cannato does use the term WASP too many times to describe Lindsay, his WASP heritage (actually Scottish-Dutch, not English) was not his reasoning for not understanding NYC. Maybe it did not matter who was mayor of NYC from 1965-73. Lindsay was the in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whites were leaving the city for the suburbs. They were replaced with poor, low educated Blacks and Puerto Ricans. The demographics were changing. Lindsay did inherit a mess with NYC's grossly overpaid (even today) Civil Service workers asking for super pay raises. Lindsay handcuffed the police too much. Lindsay allowed black militants to run buskshot over the city schools which went downhill. Crime went out of control. Welfare dependency skyrocketed. Lindsay only cared for Manhattan and militant minorities. It was changing racial/ethnic demographics that made life for Lindsay tough, but he made the situation worse with his big government, appeasment of criminals attitude. What NYC needed in the 1960's was a Rudy Guiliani. Rudy came 30 years later to clean up the mess left by Wagner, Lindsay, and Dinkins. Lindsay may have been a good man, but he should have been mayor of Salt Lake City instead.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Cannato's thesis is that John Lindsay was a political naif during his first term and that, taken together, his eight years as mayor of NYC revealed the bankruptcy of liberalism.
Lindsay was elected in 1965 as a reform mayor and, according to Cannato, was a throw-back to the crusading big-city mayors of the Progressive Era. He was honest, idealistic, open to new ideas, and didn't have a clue how to govern the City. His WASP-ish background (St.Paul's and Yale), which Cannato refers to a little too often, left him unprepared for the cynical hurly-burley of New York politics.
In 1965, Lindsay campaigned against the "power brokers," those influential business, community and labor leaders who, supposedly, had stolen the City from the people. Successful past mayors had depended on such people and cultivated them. Robert Wagner, for instance, never missed the Bar Mitzvah or First Holy Communion of the child of a prominent labor leader or precinct captain. Lindsay, on the other hand, was uncomfortable around such people (who were often vulgar) and his fastidious disdain alientated those who could make or break his administration. As a result, they broke it.
After running as an independent candidate in 1969 against weak opposition, Lindsay abandoned the Republican Party for the Democrats and cut deals with the "power brokers" he once denounced. The first four years, Cannato implies, were the expensive price New York City had to pay for the arrogant and distant Lindsay to learn the realities of ethnic/racial politics in NYC.
Lindsay is, for the author, the apotheosis of the "limousine liberal": the well-heeled, upper crust type who panders to the worst elements in society out of a cowardly sense of guilt.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A memoir of false hope January 5, 2002
In this thorough account of the John Lindsay years, Vincent Cannato seems to have condensed a life's worth of research into the few years it took to write this book. Though Lindsay wasn't a success by anyone's imagination, there are important lessons to be learned from this story of his failure.
Cannato begins The Ungovernable City with a discussion of Lindsay's ideological moorings. Given what Lindsay became (he ran for president as a Democrat a notch to the left of George McGovern) he may have seemed like the most unlikely Republican to have lived in the last half-century. But his rationale on why is revealing: "It seemed to me... that this was the party of the individual... It's the party of Lincoln, of civil rights, the protection of the person and his liberties against a majority, even against big business or the federal bureaucracy." Lindsay would go onto to decry "antilibertarian" impulses in a way that might make today's conservative proud. In reality, Lindsay's "individualism" led him in a very different direction: a distaste for unions and the "power brokers" who were virtually sovereign over the city, an embrace of the mindless youth rebellion, with its iconic portrayal of the whimsical individual overcoming sprawling organizations, and a lukewarm commitment to law and order. Lindsay's reluctance to impose standards of civil behavior, even in the most disorderly parts of the city, degenerated into a government-assisted permissiveness where welfare recipients would not (and indeed, in the Lindsay worldview, should not) be required to work, and where (often radical) community groups would be given more control over neighborhood schools.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The City That Doesn't Sleep August 2, 2001
Dr. Cannato has done every student of urban history a favor with this eminently readable book that is not just the story of a promising politician who failed but of promising policies--and an era--which failed as well. They failed their promises and their constituencies and the story is well told, unlike too much history which is dry or not made relevant to current events, trends, and understandings of social policy. Mayor Lindsay was a "phenom," but so too were his failures in the most recognizeable city in the world during the most tumultuous times of the last century in America.
While a reader may not agree with all of Cannato's conclusions, s/he cannot help but understand the diagnoses in this thoroughly researched book about more than a man, more than a city--but urban policy in general.
The city and urban policy have gained more and more interest from social scientists for a generation now and this book explains that interest in that it explains the crucible of a time and of a person--all well-intended.
Race, religion, partisan intrigue and ambition--it's all here and generations from now when city politics and New York City are studied, I'd predict "Cannato" will be mandatory reading just as other great historians' books are known by the hisotrian's name; "Cannato" will be a standard and Cannato's future career as a social historian is well set from this, his maiden voyage.
I loved this book about a topic I only knew little about--before I read it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been a lot better
I was born in NYC but at the age of five my family moved out to the Long Island suburbs along with many white ethnic families. Read more
Published on November 13, 2012 by Andrew Platek
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Read
This book is a thorough and engaging look at the issues facing New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, and the chain of events that led to the city's downward spiral in the... Read more
Published on March 31, 2012 by ADinMA
4.0 out of 5 stars a big tale about a little known man that accomplished great things.
Lindsay was first elected to office as the congressional representative of Manhattan's "Silk Stocking" district & was deemed unpopular. Read more
Published on January 4, 2012 by Michelle
4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Scenes of An Urban Tragedy
The title is apt..."An Ungovernable City." Lindsay, like Obama today, thought he could just wave a magic wand of Liberal policies and money giveaways, and all would be changed. Read more
Published on November 8, 2010 by J. Fay
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sharp and Steep Decline
I finished this book educated to the extent of the challenges Lindsay faced as mayor, but like most assessments of his leadership, am left ambivalent and confused about his legacy. Read more
Published on September 5, 2010 by Jeffrey Swystun
5.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery "Book Report"
Vote people into power and they'll send police to beat you when there's a disagreement.

Ever has it been, save for a unique time in New York City from 1965 to 1973 when... Read more
Published on February 3, 2009 by Stephen Siciliano
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the time to read
I bought this book over 5 years ago and it sat collecting dust on the shelf. It looked too long and too arcane to spend any serious time with 'The Ungovernable City'. Read more
Published on June 26, 2008 by madhatter
5.0 out of 5 stars The face of New York's decline
Mr. Cannato's biography of John Lindsay provides an interesting and informative account of Lindsay's mayoralty. Read more
Published on April 25, 2008 by Robert Fishman
4.0 out of 5 stars The system, not the man
An excellent book, but Cannato is too quick to criticize Lindsay without pointing out the constraints that New York and other cities are tied with. Read more
Published on January 4, 2003 by JSB-Chicago
2.0 out of 5 stars Should have left out the political bias
Like many other reviewers, I found this to be an engaging review of some of New York's most recent history, and was pleased to have the opportunity to reflect on that tumultuous... Read more
Published on March 24, 2002 by Eric V. Moye
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