The Brazen Age (Hardcover)

New York City and the American Empire: Politics, Art, and Bohemia

By David Reid

Pantheon, 9780394572376, 528pp.

Publication Date: March 22, 2016

List Price: 30.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A brilliant, sweeping, and unparalleled look at the extraordinarily rich culture and turbulent politics of New York City between the years 1945 and 1950, The Brazen Age opens with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s campaign tour through the city’s boroughs in 1944. He would see little of what made New York the capital of modernity—though the aristocratic FDR was its paradoxical avatar—a city boasting an unprecedented and unique synthesis of genius, ambition, and the avant-garde. While concentrating on those five years, David Reid also reaches back to the turn of the twentieth century to explore the city’s progressive politics, radical artistic experimentation, and burgeoning bohemia.
From 1900 to 1929, New York City was a dynamic metropolis on the rise, and it quickly became a cultural nexus of new architecture; the home of a thriving movie business; the glittering center of theater and radio; and a hub of book, magazine, and newspaper publishing. In the 1930s, the rise of Hitler and World War II would send some of Europe’s most talented men and women to America’s shores, vastly enriching the fields of science, architecture, film, and arts and letters—the list includes Albert Einstein, Erwin Panofsky, Walter Gropius, George Grosz, André Kertész, Robert Capa, Thomas Mann, Hannah Arendt, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Lukacs.
Reid draws a portrait of the frenzied, creative energy of a bohemian Greenwich Village, from the taverns to the salons. Revolutionaries, socialists, and intelligentsia in the 1910s were drawn to the highly provocative monthly magazine The Masses, which attracted the era’s greatest talent, from John Reed to Sherwood Anderson, Djuna Barnes, John Sloan, and Stuart Davis. And summoned up is a chorus of witnesses to the ever-changing landscape of bohemia, from Malcolm Cowley to Anaïs Nin. Also present are the pioneering photographers who captured the city in black-and-white: Berenice Abbott’s dizzying aerial views, Samuel Gottscho’s photographs of the waterfront and the city’s architectural splendor, and Weegee’s masterful noir lowlife.
But the political tone would be set by the next president, and Reid looks closely at Thomas Dewey, Henry Wallace, and Harry Truman. James Forrestal, secretary of the navy under Roosevelt, would be influential in establishing a new position in the cabinet before ascending to it himself as secretary of defense under Truman, but not before helping to usher in the Cold War.
With The Brazen Age, David Reid has magnificently captured a complex and powerful moment in the history of New York City in the mid-twentieth century, a period of time that would ensure its place on the world stage for many generations.

About the Author

DAVID REID is the editor of Sex, Death and God in L.A. and coeditor of West of the West: Imagining California. His essays, articles, reviews, and inter- views have appeared in Vanity Fair, The Paris Review, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and in several anthologies, including The Pushcart Prize XII. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Praise For The Brazen Age: New York City and the American Empire: Politics, Art, and Bohemia

"The Brazen Age is a mesmerizing political, artistic, and intellectual story of New York in the forties…David Reid is an extraordinary historian who writes like a novelist…[and] brings [the era] to life."  
The Washington Book Review
“The pages of The Brazen Age are sprawling, roving, panoramic and omnivorous… [they] are stuffed with everything: a history of skyscrapers, a tally of Franklin Roosevelt’s cocktails, a shard of Truman Capote’s wit, a litany of best-selling authors you’ve never heard of but want to look up.  [Reid] not only tells stories but also channels voices…In his own prose Reid sounds like [Edmund] Wilson and [Alfred] Kazin, sharing their capacious curiosity and emulating their stylistic momentum, epigrammatic solemnity and wryness…[He] becomes a historian of New York’s historians, a literary commentator’s literary commentator, a gossip’s gossip…this wide-ranging intensity is refreshing." 
Eric Bennett, The New York Times Book Review

“A truly great book. David Reid’s narrative is magnificently rich and complex, but his thesis is simple: with Europe’s metropolises in ruins in 1945, New York became the melting pot of global avant-gardes, the primate city of both an age and an empire. Like Diego Rivera’s great destroyed mural at Rockefeller Center, The Brazen Age magically captures the clamoring convergence of genius, power, and revolt—of dreams, manifestoes, and defeats—that made Manhattan the central power plant of late modernity.”
—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

“[An] exhilarating account…New York City in the 1940s. [With] chapters on iconic New York individuals (Berenice Abbott, Weegee), Superstars (Einstein, Toscanini, Brecht, Stravinsky), politics (the 1948 elections, leftist magazines), and bohemia (Greenwich village). Brilliant…a historical tour de force…Reid delivers his rich history with a bang.”
Kirkus (starred review)
“Reid goes in-depth to detail the culture, media, politics, iconic individuals and strange intersections of a city teeming with life. It's a great read.”  
San Jose Mercury News

“A brilliant, sweeping and unparalleled look at the extraordinarily rich culture and turbulent politics of New York City between the years 1945 and 1950…Reid has magnificently captured a complex and powerful moment in history.”
“Utterly masterful…a book rich with the colorful personalities of postwar America. [Reid] infuses his narrative with such energy [and] wit that it all hangs together marvelously as a cultural adventure story.”
— Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly