Often frustrating in its thoroughness...But if the swirl never clarifies into a nice, clear, good-guys-versus-bad-guys narrative the way the war itself did, count that as a mark of this book’s accuracy ... Strausbaugh gives us history as crazy quilt rather than as the foregone conclusion it sometimes seems ... getting through Victory City will require either a photographic memory or dexterous use of the index ... Yet if not all of the names in this book will stick, the portrait of an amazingly dynamic, chaotic, trepidation-filled time will.
Much of the first half of Victory City is an undistinguished rehash of well-worn material about the war, the 1939 World’s Fair, the Roosevelt administration and a parade of figures who happened to be from New York. Instead of immersing us in Gotham at war, the author trots out Eleanor Roosevelt, Whittaker Chambers, Father Coughlin and other celebrities who distract from the ample action in the city itself. Things pick up in the second half, when Mr. Strausbaugh focuses more on the five boroughs, but even then we are more likely to hear about the likes of Katharine Hepburn serving hot dogs at the Stage Door Canteen (amusing enough, to be sure) than to get any real taste or feel for the metropolis and its people during the struggle ... Victory City does offer a strong sense of the city’s pivotal role as an embarkation point and manufacturing powerhouse... And it provides more detail than did its predecessors on Nazi subversion efforts in New York, in particular those preceding American entry into the war, as well as Operation Pastorius, which landed a few half-hearted German saboteurs on Long Island in 1942. The book is perhaps strongest at helping us see what an extraordinary role New York’s Jews played in the war effort, as well as in the life of the city ... With material of this kind, it’s disappointing (not to say inexplicable) that the book lacks endnotes, though it does have some errors.