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To Find Out More

May 2024
1min read

The closest thing to a comprehensive history of Tammany Hall is Tigers of Tammany (1967), by Alfred Connable and Edward Silberfarb. Also valuable are M. R. Werner’s Tammany Hall (1928) and the two-volume History of Tammany Hall , published in 1901 by Gustavus Myers, one of the pioneer muckrakers.

In Boss Tweed’s New York (1965), Seymour J. Mandelbaum tells you everything you ever wanted to know about New York in the Age of Grab. Herbert Mitgang’s The Man Who Rode the Tiger (1963) is an excellent biography of Samuel Seabury. For a good short account of the Seabury investigations, see Arthur Mann’s La Guardia Comes to Power: 1933 (1965).

Robert A. Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker (1974), is a masterpiece—the best book ever written about power and politics in New York. I have lived in New York for seven years, yet as I read Caro’s book, I felt as if I had never before seen the city.

For the story of the fiscal crisis that threatened New York in the 1970s, see the interesting and somewhat divergent accounts in The Abuse of Power (1977), by Jack Newfield and Paul DuBrul, and The Streets Were Paved with Gold (1980), by Ken Auletta.

In addition to chapters about city government written by Bryce himself, James Bryce’s The American Commonwealth (1888) contains an extremely valuable chapter on the Tweed Ring written by Frank J. Goodnow, professor of administrative law at Columbia University from 1883 to 1914 and then president of Johns Hopkins University, and an interesting chapter on municipal government by Seth Low, president of Columbia University from 1890 to 1901 and reform mayor of New York from 1901 to 1903.

Low’s unsuccessful bid for reelection is the focus of the chapter on New York in Lincoln Steffens’s The Shame of the Cities (1904)—a chapter written in the middle of Low’s campaign, before the outcome was known. Steffens is a delight to read, and his description of conditions in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago shows that there was nothing unique about the methods of the bosses in New York. In Steffens’s time, as in our own, some New Yorkers took pride in proclaiming that they lived in the worst-governed city in the country. Steffens shot down their boast with one word: Philadelphia.

Readers who have saved back issues of American Heritage can learn a lot about New York without even making a trip to the library. For a start, try “The House That Tweed Built” (October 1965), by Alexander B. Callow, Jr.; “Well, What Are You Going to Do about It?” (February 1973), by Rita Kramer; “Fiorello’s Finest Hour” (October 1961), by M. R. Werner; and “The Age of the Bosses” (June 1969), by William V. Shannon.

—P.B.

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