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A literary tour de force, a magnificent chronicle of a remarkable era and a place of dreams

In a stunning work of imagination and memory, author Kevin Baker brings to mesmerizing life a vibrant, colorful, thrilling, and dangerous New York City in the earliest years of the twentieth century. A novel breathtaking in its scope and ambition, it is the epic saga of newcomers drawn to the promise of America—gangsters and laborers, hucksters and politicians, radicals, reformers, murderers, and sideshow oddities—whose stories of love, revenge, and tragedy interweave and shine in the artificial electric dazzle of a wondrous place called Dreamland.

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 6, 2009
ISBN: 9780061983733
List price: $3.99
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It makes sense that a historian like Kevin Baker would write something as epic and sweeping as Dreamland. It is a beautifully blended tale of fiction and reality. Events like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and people like Sigmund Freud and politics like Tammany Hall exist in harmony with fictional Coney Island gangsters and seedy carnival performers. It's a world of underground rat fights, prostitution, gambling, and the sheer violent will to survive. It's dirty and tragic. A love story hidden behind the grime, the colorful lights, the tricks, and the chaotic noise of New York.read more
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Set in New York City of the early Twentieth Century, Baker's novel draws on the actual immigrant history of the time and strips off the romantic veneer to show us the ugly truth of the times. People were routinely exploited, politics was corrupt, the police were corrupt and the American Dollar was king. Set in the middle of all this, Baker gives us some incredibly complex characters, some modeled after real life people of the times, and follows them through their daily lives.Not a kind picture of our American roots, but still an important glimpse in to the past nonetheless. Suggested for those with a taste for off beat (but real life) characters, a taste for historical fiction or an interest in one of the great industrial tragedies of the early Twentieth Century.read more
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I finished reading this book just as the tv programme Boardwalk Empire aired in the UK. The book tells the tales of a colourful variety of characters in the post-depression era, all connected by Dreamland amusement park at Coney Island. There is a politician, a gangster, a female immigrant and Trick the Dwarf, a performer at the amusements.For me the book belonged to Esse, daughter of Eastern European immigrants and an underpaid seamstress in The Triangle - a hazardous factory. She takes trips to Coney Island every Sunday to escape her homelife, and one week meets a handsome stranger. She doesn't yet know about his connections, nor he hers.The historical research that's gone into the book is very evident, and that alone would make me recommend it to others. Strange to be reminded of a time when food and material possessions were hard fought for. I haven't yet watched Boardwalk Empire, but I hope it's every bit as good as Dreamland.read more
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It makes sense that a historian like Kevin Baker would write something as epic and sweeping as Dreamland. It is a beautifully blended tale of fiction and reality. Events like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and people like Sigmund Freud and politics like Tammany Hall exist in harmony with fictional Coney Island gangsters and seedy carnival performers. It's a world of underground rat fights, prostitution, gambling, and the sheer violent will to survive. It's dirty and tragic. A love story hidden behind the grime, the colorful lights, the tricks, and the chaotic noise of New York.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Set in New York City of the early Twentieth Century, Baker's novel draws on the actual immigrant history of the time and strips off the romantic veneer to show us the ugly truth of the times. People were routinely exploited, politics was corrupt, the police were corrupt and the American Dollar was king. Set in the middle of all this, Baker gives us some incredibly complex characters, some modeled after real life people of the times, and follows them through their daily lives.Not a kind picture of our American roots, but still an important glimpse in to the past nonetheless. Suggested for those with a taste for off beat (but real life) characters, a taste for historical fiction or an interest in one of the great industrial tragedies of the early Twentieth Century.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I finished reading this book just as the tv programme Boardwalk Empire aired in the UK. The book tells the tales of a colourful variety of characters in the post-depression era, all connected by Dreamland amusement park at Coney Island. There is a politician, a gangster, a female immigrant and Trick the Dwarf, a performer at the amusements.For me the book belonged to Esse, daughter of Eastern European immigrants and an underpaid seamstress in The Triangle - a hazardous factory. She takes trips to Coney Island every Sunday to escape her homelife, and one week meets a handsome stranger. She doesn't yet know about his connections, nor he hers.The historical research that's gone into the book is very evident, and that alone would make me recommend it to others. Strange to be reminded of a time when food and material possessions were hard fought for. I haven't yet watched Boardwalk Empire, but I hope it's every bit as good as Dreamland.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Anyone have other suggestions for fiction about Coney Island?
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A tour-de-force novel set in New York City ca. 1910 manages to include several aspects of history that fascinate me - immigration, Lower East Side tenement life, Tammany Hall, sweatshops, Coney Island, women's labor unions, the execution of Topsy the Elephant, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Add to this the journey of Freud and Jung to the United States and you've got yourself a fascinating book that explores the land of dreams: the titular amusement park, the American dream as seen by immigrants, and the interpretation of dreams as seen by the fathers of psychology. Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character and each of them is fully realized, intricate, and fascinating ranging from Trick the Dwarf, Lower East Side gangsters, the great head shrinks, and Esther the daydreaming rabbi's daughter who is caught up in the union movement and a love affair with her gangster brother's rival. The cast is expansive, and the book contains an instructive glossary of Yiddish and Bowery terms. This may be the best novel I read all year, maybe because it's the kind of book I'd like to write. "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am small, I contain microcosms." - Trick the Dwarf, p. 38 "And yet, it all continued. The same carnival of superstition. America should have been a new start; by its very nature, it should have put the lie to the old nationalities, the old myth of blood. Yet here it was -- the same old nonsense, already starting up again. They flew their flag everywhere, played endless martial airs and patriotic anthems -- strutted about as proudly as any ancient nation. Soon, no doubt, they would have their own new 'culture.' The idiot god-machine, with no one in charge." - p. 470
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I had thoroughly enjoyed Paradise Alley and was therefore especially disappointed when I finally decided, after about 150 pages, to stop reading this book. Atmosphere goes to the essence of a historical novel, but in this case the filth, smells, corruption, despair, disgust, ugliness and sadism of the times were pushed in the reader's face again and again and again. The small plot movements that were interspersed among all of this description were not sufficient to make me want to know what happened next to the characters. When the corrupt cop forced the peasant to kill his own horse with strychnine-spiked food, I decided that I had lived long enough in that world.
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