walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Tiger_, Oliver E. Allen

Subtitled: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall

If you can locate a better overview of the history of Tammany Hall/its Committee/the Manhattan branch of the NYC Democratic Party, I'd love to know about it, because this one isn't very good.

I bought it used in Concord because I'd heard of Tammany and didn't really know much beyond "Boss Tweed", NYC and corruption. I'm not entirely certain I could have attached "Democratic" to "Tammany", I was that unaware. That, however, was several years ago. In the interim, I've been reading more transport history, and got particularly interested in the interaction between Tammany and the development of the subway system.

This book only mentions the subway once (a minor issue of a corrupt contractor relationship involving tiles for the subway). This is particularly amazing, because of this passage on page 234:

"On top of this, Tammany's own bailiwick, Manhattan (otherwise known as New York County), was losing population to the other boroughs, Brooklyn in particular. At the turn of the century, fully half of the city's population had resided on Manhattan Island, but by 1930 only a quarter of New Yorkers were Manhattanites, and the percentage kept dropping further, weakening Tammany's ability to lead. Finally, as Tammany's power declined, it found itself relying more and more on payoffs from organized crime, and when such arrangements became known the Hall was further discredited."

So the Fall of Tammany is directly attributable (through more than one mechanism) to this population movement. Yet at not point does Allen even _mention_ why this population movement happened. There had been ferries and then (a) bridge(s) to Brooklyn for some time, but what happened in the time frame Allen identifies was the creation of meaningful rapid transit -- the subway system. It was an important three way struggle between Hearst, Republicans and the various elements of the Democratic party which was not entirely controlled by Tammany even at this point. The coalition that Got It Done as led by a New Jersey guy and the crucial piece that made it all possible was ... Brooklyn. This really can't be ignored. It is completely representative of politics and it determined what would eventually happy to Tammany.

There's an incredibly stupid and gratuitous screw-up on pages 195-6 about the New York Auto-Truck: "a firm with tremendous potential now that horse-drawn freight delivery was yielding to the internal combustion engine". Except it wasn't. This was in 1898 and IC for trucking lay several years in the future. The New York Auto-Truck company ran vehicles based on compressed air (really), which Allen knew, because the whole section of the book is about Croker and Manhattan Elevated and George Gould refusing to put the compressed-air pipes on the El structure until after he heard back from engineering and legal and pissing off Croker and therefore Tammany as a result and the showdown not doing Tammany any favors but damaging Manhattan Elevated as well. I can only assume that Allen didn't bother to pay attention to what the compressed air was going, but I'll just note that it didn't involve internal combustion engines.

Allen liked the juiciness of his topic; this thing reads like a poorly understood series of political anecdotes. I wish it had been better.
Tags: book review, history, non-fiction, politics
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