Synopses & Reviews
In New York at War
, historian Steven H. Jaffe offers an alternative history of New York Cityarguably the most powerful and yet also the most vulnerable city on earth, and a place whose landscape, culture, and inhabitants have been shaped by violence near and far.
The threats of war to New York have not always been direct, but even distant wars have had an important influence on the city. Beginning with an Indian attack on one of Henry Hudsons crewmen (who in 1609 became the first recorded fatality of an act of war in the regions history), Jaffe describes, in turn, each of the citys encounters with war over the past four centuries. He recounts the threats Dutch settlers faced from Indians (and each other) after the West India Company established New Amsterdam in 1624; the British encroachment and eventual invasion that transformed the Dutch town into an English colony in 1664; the colonial wars (such as Queen Annes War and the French and Indian Wars) that affected the city over the next hundred years; and the divisions and depredations New York endured during the Revolutionary War. The city soon experienced new threats (and became a major naval stronghold) during the Quasi-War with France and the War of 1812, which is now viewed as a second war of independence.
The nations newfound freedom did nothing to shield New York from the global conflicts that followed the Revolutionary War; in fact, New Yorkers sense of vulnerability persistedand in many ways worsenedin the 19th and 20th centuries. Jaffe shows how New York became hugely powerful as the Unions money city” during the Civil War, but nevertheless retained strong economic and emotional ties to the South, and was so wracked by draft riots in 1863 that people suspected a Confederate plot was behind the violence. Many African-American New Yorkers were killed during the riots, highlighting the prejudice that has frequently characterized New York when the citys inhabitants feel threatened.
Fear and prejudice have been bedfellows throughout New Yorks history, says Jaffeand the 1863 draft riots are hardly the only example of this sorry fact. During the build-up to World War I and the war itself, German-Americans were the subject of intense suspicion, which seemed to be confirmed by the discovery of several bombs planted by German saboteurs; one successful attack destroyed an ammunition depot in Jersey City and shattered thousands of windows in Manhattan. (Had New Yorkers learned of the Kaisers unrealized plans to invade the city after a massive amphibious landing on Cape Cod, the consequences for German New Yorkers would likely have been fare more dire.) New Yorkers of German, Japanese, Italian, and Jewish heritage encountered their fair share of hostility during World War II, and in the atomic era that followed the city endured attacks by terrorist groups such as the Weathermen, disaffected Bay of Pigs veterans, Puerto Rican nationalists, and Islamic fundamentalists. Each new assault has seen New Yorkers heap discrimination upon neighbors they perceive as being similar to the attackers. The challenge throughout the citys history, says Jaffe, has been to distinguish spies, saboteurs, and terrorists from their seemingly identical but innocent neighborsa difficult task, to be sure, but one whose complexity does not exempt New Yorkers or other Americans from the need to try.
Stretching from the colonial era to 9/11 and beyond, New York at War is that most rare of books: a work of history that is at once local and international, timely and timeless. Bringing a unique lens to bear on the worlds most celebrated and contested city, Jaffe reveals the unimaginable ways the city has changedand how it has stubbornly enduredunder threats both external and internal.
"'o other major American city has so repeatedly faced the risks and realities of wartime turmoil and attack as has New York,' writes Jaffe, historian and historical curator. He uses 9/11 as a focal point for reflecting on the city's long and long-neglected past as a military site. The city's struggles, and its frequent failure to develop effective defenses, began before Peter Stuyvesant and continued after the administration of Rudolph Giuliani. Pirates, Confederates, and terrorists have held the spotlight. Jaffe tells the story in the context of paradoxes. New York has been a stronghold, a warehouse, and a bank in the service of war yet has also proven consistently vulnerable to attack a consequence of its origins and development as a commercial center. Contradictory feelings of vulnerability and of immunity inform the city's perspective on military matters. Jaffe utilized a spectrum of published sources, primary and secondary, in this well-presented, fast-paced narrative of the ways a polyglot, protean community has reacted, and continues to react, to the periodic challenge of ensuring domestic security while maintaining commitments to openness and inclusion. 34 b&w illus., 3 maps. Agent: Sam Stoloff, Frances Oldin Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Kenneth T. Jackson, editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of New York City
From the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776 to the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943, the great Hudson River metropolis and its huge harbor have been central to the American military experience. New York at War is a page-turner, and it tells an important and fascinating story with authority and distinction.”
Vincent J. Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island
Too many New Yorkers have forgotten that their city had a long history of armed conflicts and violent attacks even before the attacks of 9/11. Steven Jaffes book is a much-needed reminder of that story as he leads the reader on a brisk and engaging tale of Indian wars, slave revolts, draft riots, German saboteurs, and terrorist bombings.”
Edwin G. Burrows, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gotham and author of Forgotten Patriots
New York at War is a sobering reminder that attack, or the threat of attack, runs like a red thread through four centuries of Gothams history. Indeed, Jaffes impressively comprehensive narrative will persuade you that no other American city has been targeted by enemies of one kind or another more often than New York. Its also sure to leave you wondering whats next.”
Barnet Schecter, author of The Battle for New York and The Devil's Own Work
With fluid, engaging prose and impressive research, Steven Jaffe has managed to capture the citys sprawling, complex history in a brisk narrative that brings each era vividly to life. At the same time, he skillfully weaves the powerful themes that unify the book: New Yorks uniqueness and its cultural symbolism have long made the city a target for attack, while the responses of its diverse people to wartime threats offer universal lessons about balancing civil liberties and security to sustain freedom and democratic values. New York at War is a remarkable achievement.” Mike Wallace, co-author of GothamForeign foes have rarely attacked New York directly, but the city has been profoundly involved in the nations many military conflicts. As Steven Jaffe shows in this novel and absorbing study, Gotham has been banker and arsenal, staging ground and recruiting post, cheerleader and critic, fortification and tempting target. Seen in a series, the wartime experiences are strikingly different, and Jaffe respects each war storys particularity. But hes also good at spotting commonalities, the most intriguing being the way wars abroad become wars at home, with New Yorks polyglot citizenry battling over a conflicts legitimacy, or which combatant to back. Highly recommended.”
Thomas Fleming, author of 1776: Year of Illusions
Anyone whos ever lived in New York, or visited it, or thought about visiting it will be fascinated by this book. Even historians will be surprised by some chapters. Steven Jaffe has dug deep and come up with literary gold, again and again.”
Tyler Anbinder, author of Five Points
New York at War provides a fascinating look at a forgotten aspect of the citys historyits central role in so many of Americas military conflicts. Steven Jaffe brings this neglected aspect of New Yorks past back to life with impressive insight and a great eye for the telling details that make history come alive.”
Eric Homberger, author of The Historical Atlas of New York City
Steven H. Jaffes vividly written narrative restores a crucial thread to the way we understand the history of New York City. In a highly readable style, New York at War tells a story of tenacity and endurance, and of social conflict on a grand scale. With a story filled with drama and the drum-beat of violence, culminating with the destruction of the World Trade Center, Jaffe has much to tell us about the way a city responds to crisis.”
Edward P. Kohn, author of Hot Time in the Old Town
While most Americans probably see New York as Americas capital of finance and fashion, Steven Jaffe shows how the city has also been the nations epicenter during times of war. While New York may have profited from Americas many wars, it also proved the nations most vulnerable city, subject to attack both from without and from within. With an impressive span greater than that of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York at War reminds readers of Gothams centrality in Americas wartime experience from colonial times to 9/11. A great idea for a book, masterfully done.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Well-researched, with a flair for the dramatic, and full of unexpected tidbits. Military buffs and New Yorkers will especially love it.”
[A] well-presented, fast-paced narrative of the ways a polyglot, protean community has reacted, and continues to react, to the periodic challenge of ensuing domestic security while maintaining commitments to openness and inclusion.”
Library Journal, starred review
Encyclopedic in scope, diligently researched, and well written, this magisterial book synthesizes the history of our greatest city in a way not fully done before. It will have strong appeal to general readers, New York history buffs, and specialists with an interest in American military history. Highly recommended.”
New York Times
In New York at War
historian Steven H. Jaffe skillfully reminds readers that the city had been a tempting target before, that it suffered casualties in earlier conflicts and that other generations of officials worried about immigrants with dual loyalties and about balancing New Yorkers security and their civil liberties.
New York at War...is one bold undertaking.... [Jaffe] unfolds his story
in clear, no-nonsense prose.”
Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review
[A] fascinating glimpse into an aspect of New York history that is often ignored or underplayed. Jaffe offers exacting details...giving valuable context to the spectacle and bombast of more commonplace historical reporting. New York at War sheds new light on a city we all know well.”
Very informative.... New York at War will likely become the definitive work on this critical subject. It is a well-written, well-researched work, offering a compelling portrait of a defining aspect of the citys history. It draws on both scholarly and first-person accounts and, amidst a revealing, straight-forward narrative, introduces many almost forgotten New Yorkers. Readers will learn just how significant a role war has played in the life of Gotham.”
[A] fascinating new study.... Jaffes account is eminently readable and lively, filled with colorful stories (all precisely documented)some well known, and others refreshingly novel. This is a must read... as no one has previously written a comprehensive study on this subject.... Essential.”
Michigan War Studies Review
Steven Jaffes New York at War is a boon to anyone concerned with war in the context of urban areas or urban areas in the context of politics and war. It captures the diversity of the wars New York has weathered.... New York at War is an excellent addition to the literature of military history.”
The complete history of New York as a military target, from the Indian attacks on Henry Hudson in 1609 through 9/11 and beyond, showing how the Empire City and its inhabitants have been fundamentally shaped by war.
the need to try.
Stretching from the colonial era to 9/11 and beyond, New York at War is that most rare of books: a work of history that is at once local and international, timely and timeless. Bringing a unique lens to bear on the world's most celebrated and contested city, Jaffe reveals the unimaginable ways the city has changed--and how it has stubbornly endured--under threats both external and internal.
About the Author
Steven H. Jaffe is a writer and historian specializing in the history of New York City. Jaffe has worked at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, the New-York Historical Society (where he served as Senior Project Historian), and the South Street Seaport Museum. Jaffe graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and obtained his doctoral degree in history from Harvard University. His work has been published in The New-York Journal of American History, Seaport: New Yorks History Magazine, and in Kenneth T. Jacksons (ed.) Encyclopedia of New York City. Jaffe lives in Maplewood, NJ with his wife and two sons.