In Down 42nd Street
, Marc Eliot offers a fascinating and pugnacious history of what may be the most famous street in the United States--or at least the most famously decadent one. "By 1980, [New York's] fabled Manhattan crossroads had become ground zero for the manufacture, exhibition, and distribution of pornography, drug dealing, pedophilia, prostitution, and violent street crime," he writes. Eliot describes 42nd Street's development over time, and he's not afraid to go after a few sacred cows. Here's what he says about the "greatest generation" right after the Second World War: "GIs returning to the U.S. via New York City's harbors and ports were point men in the postwar sex and drug revolution." Today, of course, 42nd Street is a very different place, thanks to a conscious cleanup effort that has brought in Disney and other corporations. Eliot views this trend with a distaste that other may not feel: by the end of the 20th century, he notes with irritation, "42nd Street had become a horizontal Statue of Liberty, a place native New Yorkers avoided like Yellow Fever." All in all, Down 42nd Street
is an excellent piece of opinionated urban history told with verve. --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
A rambunctious social and political history of Times Square and "the deuce" street slang for 42nd Street covers a lot of territory, but makes its points with wit and an insider's keen insight. Eliot, co-author of Erin Brockovitch's forthcoming advice book Take It from Me! and of Barry White's Love Unlimited, piles up fascinating historic details, from Revolutionary War battles on the nascent site of 42nd Street to the building of Grand Central Terminal; from the growth of New York's theater district to how the business-oriented Committee of 14 attacked prostitution, censored theaters and nearly killed Broadway from 1904 to 1930. Explaining how the street became famous for sophistication and then for sex, grime and crime, Eliot is best when focusing on the economic developments that shaped the area: Vanderbilt bullying city officials to build Grand Central; Ed Koch's deals with developers for redevelopment in the 1980s that destroyed many historic theaters; the Gambino crime syndicate's lost claim on the area to "a rodent of a different sort" the Disney corporation. Comfortable and conversant with a wide range of cultural artifacts and events (Dead End Kids movies, the changing censorship laws of the 1950s and '60s, changing fast food habits of New Yorkers), Eliot paints a lively portrait of urban life. While the book would have been helped by drawing upon newer, groundbreaking critical works such as Samuel R. Delaney's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, it does present a popular and engaging look at "the crossroads of the world."
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.