On June 25, 1945, 14,000 American service men and women sailed into New York aboard the British liner Queen Mary. They were the first big contingent to return from the victory over Nazi Germany, and the city that awaited them stood at a historical climax of power, confidence, hope, and prestige, still curiously laced with a provincial innocence. In this new book by one of the most gifted stylists in the English language, we disembark at Manhattan with the returning GIs, and discover for ourselves how the city was. We ride the vanished trollies, the El, the Hudson River ferry-boats. We meet characters as disparate as developer Robert Moses, Sherman Billingsley of the Stork Club, painter Jackson Pollock, and Joe Gould, a Greenwich Village denizen who claimed to speak the seagull language. We explore Harlem and the Lower East Side, we inspect the menu at the legendary Le Pavillon, we board the Twentieth Century Limited, and we swoon to Sinatra at Radio City Music Hall. Few aspects of Manhattan are neglected in Jan Morris's affectionate evocation--slum and Social Register are both here, City College and Times Square, the genius of the New York School and the panache of the New York Fire Department. Manhattan '45 gets its title, so the author tells us in her epilogue, because it sounds "partly like a kind of gun, and partly like champagne," and in these pages the victorious, celebratory, and explosive Manhattan of four decades ago finds a permanent souvenir.
This book is filled with details of life and how it was lived in 1945 mostly from books, letters, photographs and interviews. Everything's discussed in categories and in a gossipy tone that covers people, places, race, class, shopping, transportation, music, technology, slums, mansions, art, parties, and schools. I kind of wish I'd taken better notes on this book since it's full of fun little tidbits, but no great memorable themes. I'd like to read it again, perhaps while in Manhattan, the book tucked under my arm as I visit what's there and what once was.