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DOWN 42nd STREET: Sex, Money, Culture, and Politics at the Crossroads of the World Hardcover – November 19, 2001

2.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Warner Books; First Edition edition (November 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446525715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446525718
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,153,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ricky Hunter on February 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Marc Elliot's Down 42nd Street (Sex, Money, Culture, and Politics at the Crossoads of the World) may frustrate some history mavens looking for exact truth but will be a thrill to anyone who wants to read a book that truly captures the spirit of 42nd Street. The first part of the book is the historical buildup to the author's main playground, the years of fighting to fix the street from Lindsay to Giuliani (with a wonderful portrayal of Koch, for an added thrill) as the street moved from the Crossroads of the (Porn and Drug) World to a branch of the Disney franchise. The book does deliver the sex, money, culture, and politics of its subtitle, in very healthy doses. There are no startling revelations only many, many small thrills, much like the street itself. An enjoyable read.
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Format: Audio Cassette
"Down 42nd Street" is a path I walk five days a week. It has been enjoyable to watch the stunning metamorphosis of this grand boulevard over the past decade or so. It was, therefore, with eager anticipation that I picked up this new history of 42nd Street.
On one level, it was an enjoyable read, offering illuminating anecdotes such as the encampment of George Washington's troops on the grounds of what is now the New York Public Library during the pivotal Battle of New York. In the 19th Century, the site would house the Croton Reservoir colossus. On the adjacent property, the Crystal Palace pavallion -- featuring the tallest structure in New York at the time -- became the City's premier social gathering place until it burned down while firefighters futilely tried to draw ground-level water from the high-walled reservoir. The demise of the Crystal Palace would clear the way for the development of Bryant Park on this site in the period after the Civil War.
The book is loaded with fascinating tidbits like these for people who enjoy history.
A good portion of the book is devoted to the spreading hegemony of illicit drugs, pornography and crime on West 42nd Street in the period after World War II, and the reclamation of the street in the 1990s. This is where "Down 42nd Street" falls down. The author -- an entertainment writer -- presents several misstatements that seriously tarnish his narrative. At one point, he asserts that Olympia & York owned Rockefeller Center -- hugh?? -- and contends that in 1981, "Governor" Cuomo dropped his opposition to the selection of a lead developer after Mayor Koch hinted at challenging the "Governor" in 1982. (Cuomo did not become Governor until 1983 following a primary challenge from Koch in the fall of 1982!
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Format: Audio Cassette
My native skepticism makes me distrust about one third of what I read in this highly engaging page-turner. And I suspect a careful historian or a reader who cared enough to do a little investigative research could catch author Marc Eliot on a number of factual and interpretive errors. Even so, DOWN 42ND STREET was a fun read. One of Eliot's most delicious vices is his ability to draw (nearly libelous) caricatures of many of the key players in New York's history, most notably its mayors. (For instance, this about Ed Koch's repsonse to the porn, drug, and prostitution situation on 42nd Street: "No problem, Koch insisted. Just leave everything to him. From here on in, he told one and all, it was going to be nothing but smooth sailing. After which, the smiling, gesticulating mayor, the ever-loquacious captain of the good ship "New York," led himself and the city straight into the worst political storm of his career.") The overweening journalistic style exhibits itself in Eliot's tendency to frequently end chapters with semi-mysterious cliff-hangers designed to keep us reading. It works, but I read on with a much eroded sense of trust.
If you're willing to look past all that, and if you appreciate seeing large complex chunks of history telescoped into compact coctail-party-sized anecdotes, you'll enjoy this brief history of a truly fascinating piece of New York real estate. And one thing Eliot makes clear is that it IS all about real estate (i.e., money). Enormous and bizarre egos clash in scramble for profits. The history of 42nd Street is the history of corruption and neglect on the part of public officials; fear, fascination, and indifference on the part of citizens and tourists; and greed held in check by caution on the part of the private sector.
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By A Customer on January 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Having worked on 42nd Street for the past few years, this book intrigued me. But -- I have never read a bigger work of fiction! He is unable to get simple items such as people's titles correct, their bios, and in some cases the company they work for - - let alone know the accurate history of the block. This book is written like a tabloid and should be treated as such.
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Format: Hardcover
Great book, gives a thorough description of 42nd Street's Giuliani-Disney makeover that signaled the demise of another part of the city's flavor that no one will understand a few years from now when the last of the remaining pockets of sleaze are replaced by high-rises that will be unaffordable to most residents. I'd much rather walk through the Times Square of yesteryear than the mess it is today, but I digress. This book chronicles the early stages of the takeover and the revival of some of the theaters, if only the progress had stopped there.
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