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When Brooklyn Was the World, 1920-1957 Hardcover – April 13, 1986

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Elliot Willensky, who now lives in the community of Brooklyn Heights, serves as the officially appointed Borough Historian of Brooklyn and as Vice-Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York. A consulting architect and exhibition designer who frequently writes and lectures on urban themes, he has taught at Brooklyn College, Cornell University, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture and Planning. He is a member of the board of directors of the Municipal Art Society of New York, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and the Frederick Law Olmsted Association. He is coauthor of The AIA Guide to New York City, widely regarded as the most comprehensive architectural guidebook to New York City's five boroughs.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 239 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (April 13, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517558580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517558584
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 6, 1998
Format: Hardcover
It has been 40 years since I have stepped foot in Brooklyn. Being a Brooklynite, who had been away all this time, when I first saw this book I had to sit down and breathedeeply. A friend had suggested this book and indeed, it was a great recomendation. There were the photographs of many of the familiar neighborhoods and places of my youth coming alive. As I read Mr. Willensky's writings suddenly the sounds and smells were coming back and I was beingtransported back to my proud Brooklyn. Again, I felt proud of being a Brooklynite and can't wait to make my first trip back after all my years away from this great place. I have no expecations on what I will find after such a long time. As the book deals with Brooklyn as it was from 1920 to 1957, I will try not to compare what I find with the way Elliot Willensky knew it and I too lived it. Excellent narrative, great photos and a must see and read for ALL former Brooklynites and anyone wanting to learn about the greatest place on earth! LONG LIVE BROOKLYN!!Richard Bender
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Format: Hardcover
What a find! I had to buy this book after browsing through it during a visit to a friend - another transplanted Brooklynite. And it was worth the price. This book transports you to a time and place when Brooklyn truly WAS the world. There are sights, sounds and smells that come alive through historical perspective and photographs. This book makes a great contribution to the collective memory of all of us who were lucky enough to have been a part of the Brooklyn that was the world.
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Format: Hardcover
Christopher Polizano

Dr. Roche

New York History

December 3, 2004

Brooklyn: Hometown and Borough

Elliot Willensky's When Brooklyn Was the World 1920-1957 visits New York's most populous borough during its heyday. His account takes the reader on a tour though the streets of Brooklyn during its most fascinating period, combining the best features of a photo album, a diary, and a travel guide.

Willensky's Brooklyn is born from the excitement of the lawless and indulgent Roaring Twenties and leaves with a final parkway ride out to Levittown during the postwar flight to suburbia. His study begins generally, examining Brooklyn as a whole, searching for its special lure and curiosity in a section entitled "Are You Really From Brooklyn?" He questions the borough a unique identity and discovers features present throughout it: ethnic diversity, neighborhood pride, a transit company bearing its name, along with a spirit of accomplishing the unexpected, revealed in celebrations of "da bums" World Series victory.

The book then proceeds along a very loose chronology, with periodic interruptions allotting time to study cultural habits and architectural features. Yet, When Brooklyn Was the World serves less as a time line than a narration of daily life. Where appropriate, Willensky blends decades together, and he is a little over-detailed so its possible to get lost in the forest, but he closely develops two eras of Brooklyn life, the era of prohibition and the period during America's involvement in World War II. He tells a series of anecdotes illustrating Brooklyn's restlessness under the Volstead Act, restlessness equal to that of Manhattan. Speakeasies were raided. Mob bosses were ratted on.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book. The only problem with it is that it's just not long enough. WHEN BROOKLYN WAS THE WORLD 1920-1957 is a history and reminiscence of life in Brooklyn, New York, during its heyday years between the completion of the Subway line to New Lots, in 1920, and the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957.

Elliot Willensky is uniquely qualified to have written this book. As official Borough Historian and the co-author of the singular AIA GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY (which lists and describes every architectural point of interest in the Five Boroughs) he is intimately aware of the streets of New York, but more so, as a Brooklyn boy, he also has the heartbeat of Brooklyn beating in his own chest.

Brooklyn was its own city before Greater New York swallowed it whole in 1898 (by only a few hundred "yea" votes out of 70,000 cast). As a Borough, it was "big [and] klutzy," the unshaven bigger, younger blue-collar brother of chi-chi Beau Brummell Manhattan. Brooklyn's population has always exceeded that of any other Borough, and in its own way, Brooklyn has been far more diverse and interesting than even "the City".

In the early twentieth century, Brooklyn grew at a fantastic rate as immigrants and the children of immigrants streamed, (as they still do), into its hundred square miles seeking relief from the overcrowding of Manhattan's Lower East Side. As Willensky says, this history of Brooklyn is divided, de facto, into three portions, before The War (1920-1941), During The War (1941-1945), and After The War (1945-1957). Each era is different. Brooklyn is different now. And yet . . .

The immigrants developed their own patois that reflected a mixture of their varying accents newly-leavened with the day-to-day details of Brooklyn life.
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Format: Hardcover
What a wonderful little book that illustrates what so many of us already know; Brooklyn is a magical place. The writing style is particularly apt and evocative.
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