Art and Politics in Late 1940s Greenwich Village
David Reid over-promises with his title. To be sure it is about the arts community in Greenwich Village and the left leaning politics associated with it. However it is not about New York City and what he calls the American Empire of the late 1940s. He rightfully opens his book with FDR’s open car tour in the rain for three million New Yorkers in the late days of his 1944 reelection campaign. After all as Michael Barone wrote so eloquently that New York City was the city that was winning the war. Unfortunately that is the last we see of the average New Yorker. He also doesn’t flush out the role of New York’s foreign policy elite in shaping Truman Administration policy.
Reid’s book would have been far better if he placed the political left and the arts community in the context of the hopes and aspirations of eight million New Yorkers who suffered through the privations 15 years of depression and war. What they wanted was to move to the suburbs or the new apartment blocks rising in Queens, buy cars and above all else they wanted to have babies. These wants were hardly a priority for the villagers he discusses. Also nowhere is there a discussion of the important role played by baseball in the lives of the average New Yorker. There were far more discussions about the 1947 pennant races than the potential for a Henry Wallace campaign in 1948. Further in 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball which had far reaching political consequences.
What Reid does discuss is the minutia of Greenwich Village going way back to the 1800s and the denizens who lived there. He brings to life the beginnings of abstract expressionism, the rise of Norman Mailer as a great novelist and the differences between “The Partisan Review” and “Commentary”. Then of a sudden he goes into a discussion of the Truman Administration and its growing Cold War posture. To me Truman is a hero, not so to Reid.
As a result I was disappointed. Those interested in in the narrow comings and goings of the Greenwich Village of the late 1940s would have a more positive review of the book than me.
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