Manhattan '45

by Jan Morris

Hardcover, 1987




New York : Oxford University Press, 1987.


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.… (more)

Media reviews

Thus, Ms. Morris's rendition of the city's 1945 moods conveys what it felt like to live in New York at that time. For much of the detail, Ms. Morris has depended on research at the New-York Historical Society and on conversations with battalions of New York friends who were there. The passages dealing with later times reflect her own reactions and convey what it feels like to travel in the city. Jan Morris is the traveler we would all like to be. World-weary only to the point of being prepared at any moment to explore geography, speech or native behavior in search of a new nugget of understanding that will revive her spirit, she finds it; we probably would not.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Othemts
Manhattan '45 (1985) by Jan Morris attempts to capture New York City at the time of its greatest success, optimism, influence and power, just as the Second World War comes to an end. This is not a travel book so much as an historical recreation. The author never even visited New York until nearly a decade later. Writing in 1985, the book is full of copious footnotes where Morris tells us what is gone and different. Reading this an additional 25 years later my mind adds another layer of meta-analysis of things further lost and changed in Manhattan's continuous build and demolish cycle.

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.
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