Saturday, 8 February 2014

The metamorphoses of Manhattan

A non fiction book about Times Square

Full title: Times Square Roulette. Remaking the City Icon

Author: Lynne B. Sagalyn

Publisher: The MIT Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: 2001)

Genre: Non fiction, monograph

Attributes: 620 pages, hard cover, printed on glossy, alkaline paper



On the scale of zero to one: ZERO (i.e. free: abandoned book found on a library shelf)



The book is a visual spectacle. The 30 colour plates in the middle section, added to the hundreds of black-and-white reproductions, help Times Square appear on pages in full glory.
On Amazon.com, comments are not always appreciative of the text’s high quality (as if that were some kind of fundamental defect), some readers finding it overly highbrow and concerned with things that usually escape the attention of average readers. Some of these reviewers are right: this is not a book for superficial readers. It requires a certain amount of comfort with the subtleties of historical accounts. But let’s face it: the reading of any historical account calls for some participation on the reader’s side. At the end of the day, it’s all about the power of one’s imagination.

One of the 30 colour plates in the middle section of the book,
showing the renovated New Amsterdam Theater
(c) Lynne B. Sagalyn
But the text is fluent and its style is often decorated in ways that add pleasant oases of plasticity, where readers of all denominations and capabilities can enjoy good metaphors and remarkable similes, along with information that strikes as journalistic or even blog-like (although the volume was, obviously, not intended for the medium). So no, Times Square Roulette is not as distant as those Amazon reviews suggest. It is a long read, indeed (490 pages, plus endnotes, bibliography and appendices), but one that could easily be employed as a reference book. Its richness recommends it for a prime position on a bookshelf.
For those interested in a more detailed analysis, I’ve written a longer review, available at Francisc Nona’s Word Epidemic.
Note, Amazon provides a lengthy view of the volume’s content, and so does the snippet view at Google Books – enough to gauge the book’s overall tone and its purpose.

I need to stress, once more, that Times Square Roulette is a fascinating object, as well as a thorough investigation of an important landmark of Manhattan, New York.