The book is an effortful reference for how New York morphed from a syncretic collection of diasporas—both extra-national and of the identity and mind—into a bland sovereignty of the mega-rich. Moss often tries to sound curmudgeonly, but is clearly heart-struck and psychically reliant upon New York’s wild singularity ... Moss’s factual, point-by-point analysis of New York’s perdition is based in context: Like the city, each event, person, and place exists in relation to what stands before, after, and beside it. The result is a remarkable atlas charting where New York has gone, and why.
The book is a full-throated argument for New York City as a particular kind of place, and for a certain kind of life lived within it ... The list of vanished places and things is long and ever growing, and in these pages Moss maps a litany of losses. Chapter by chapter, he inventories the history and heartbreaks of the main neighborhoods in Manhattan before turning his attention to parts of Brooklyn and Queens, with a foray into the South Bronx ... Moss’s indignation and moral clarity—his certainty about who belongs and who doesn’t, what values are worth upholding and who to blame for their downfall—is an audacious kind of idealism. As pissed off as Moss is, the power of this book and the blog that preceded it is that he doesn’t settle for outrage. He maintains that New York is worth standing up for and protecting.
...[a] passionate, sprawling, and often frustrating new book ... This book is not a memoir, and Moss himself is as reticent a portraitist as his beloved Edward Hopper. He eulogizes a universal concept of the city, a palimpsest of Ashcan painters and stevedores and jazz and punks. Selling the reader on the appeal of that shared New York past is the challenge he sets for himself. In that, he largely succeeds. At his best, Moss is a shoe-leather reporter, always looking, listening, and taking notes ... He holds people under 30 in particular contempt, convinced that their aching suburban souls account for the city’s increasing number of chain stores...That generational contempt tends to overshadow the people who ought to be the real villains of a book about how money ruined Manhattan: landlords. Residential landlords are to blame for the evictions, high rents, and population turnover that Moss decries ... Sometimes I wonder if Moss loves the local, the exotic, and the irreverent or just the old. He can be nostalgic for the comfort food of a bygone chain restaurant or offended by a kid mooning a Catholic street parade. In chronicling the sudden impact of astounding sums of money on the commerce and social fabric of a city, Moss has done a service to history. As an analysis, the book suffers from its author’s stubbornness.