The Vil­lage

  • Review
By – November 18, 2013

The Vil­lage: A His­to­ry of Green­wich Vil­lage 400 Years of Beats and Bohemi­ans, Rad­i­cals and Rogues, by John Straus­baugh, is filled with fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about New York City and the Vil­lage.” From its incep­tion in 1640, New Ams­ter­dam (i.e. New York), was iden­ti­fied as a rough out­post” by the Dutch West Indies Com­pa­ny. It also was aston­ish­ing­ly diverse.” Its five hun­dred inhab­i­tants came from all over Europe. The first Jews to join the set­tle­ment arrived in 1654. These ear­ly res­i­dents were tough, con­tentious, and often drunk — drink­ing and whor­ing were the chief enter­tain­ments and tav­erns occu­pied a quar­ter of the town’s build­ings,” writes Strausbaugh.

This book vivid­ly and metic­u­lous­ly il­lustrates Straus­baugh­’s propo­si­tion that New York City, and the Vil­lage in par­tic­u­lar, has always been and remains a wide-open par­ty town” much as it was in its found­ing days. Quirky and cre­ative peo­ple have been many of its most impor­tant res­i­dents. The Vil­lage’s high point was its Gold­en Age” in the 1900s when artists, intel­lec­tu­als, actors, and bohemi­an types con­gre­gat­ed in its envi­rons. Oth­er sig­nif­i­cant time peri­ods have been Pro­hi­bi­tion, the Red Decade,” World War II, gay and les­bian activism, the AIDS epi­dem­ic, and today’s gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. Jew­ish lumi­nar­ies have always been active play­ers in the life of the Vil­lage includ­ing such fig­ures as Emma Gold­man, Samuel Gom­pers, Allen Gins­berg, Bob Dylan, David Amram, and Diane Arbus. I rec­om­mend this book for all read­ers who love to delve into the his­to­ry of New York and want to gain a greater under­stand­ing of the col­or­ful life of the Vil­lage, one of its most famous neighborhoods.

John Straus­baugh was the cul­ture and his­to­ry writer and edi­tor for the week­ly New York Press from 1988 through 2002. He has also writ­ten for the Wash­ing­ton Post, NPR, and PBS. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes, pho­tos (b&w).

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

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