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Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge

A-SavageCityIrish-American journalist T. J. English has investigated Irish mobsters in The Westies: Inside the Hell's Kitchen Irish Mob (1990), Chinatown's Vietnamese gangs in Born to Kill (1995), and the U.S. Mafia's operations in 1950s Cuba in Havana Nocturne (2008). He has also written scripts for the television crime dramas NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

The Topic: From 1963 to 1973, New York City was plagued by racial conflict, corruption, and political unrest. Violent crime soared by nearly 100 percent. "Every day New York City is a more dangerous place to live than the day before," declared a 1965 election ad. English lays bare the decade's hostilities, treachery, and prejudice as they snaked through the lives of three New Yorkers: George Whitmore Jr., a black teenager bullied into confessing to two grisly murders; Dhoruba bin Wahad, a Black Panther; and Bill Phillips, a crooked cop who turned state's evidence on his cohorts. "Though their stories would unfold independent of one another," explains English, "all three men became enmeshed in a similar matrix of forces--political, social, and racial--that would alter the direction of the city."
William Morrow. 496 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 9780061824555

Mother Jones 4 of 5 Stars
"T.J. English is a crime writer (Havana Nocturne), and much of the book reads like a thriller. But thanks to interviews with many of its characters, it's dripping with the kind of detail that's too good to make up." Casey Miner

New York Daily News 4 of 5 Stars
"The Savage City ... reads like a heart-pounding Ross MacDonald crime thriller about how the sins of the past always come back to bite you. ... Savage City is a terrific New York history lesson that reads like a page-turning thriller." Denis Hamill

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"T.J. English ... returns with a swashbuckling, racially charged nightmare about New York City in the 1960s. This is one nightmare worth reliving because Mr. English so vividly recreates an era when, he writes, ‘the city was perched on the brink of self-immolation' and reminds New Yorkers how lucky they are to be living here today." Sam Roberts

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"The Savage City is spellbinding and suspenseful. ... The author's sympathy for his subjects and his decision to let them speak for themselves give the narrative immediacy and power. But on occasion, he seems too credulous." Glenn C. Altschuler

Village Voice 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] fascinating read. ... However, it's also a lot to absorb. The act of weaving three independent stories into one narrative is a challenge, one that English mostly pulls off." Graham Rayman

Critical Summary

Many Americans, including veteran New Yorkers, have never known of--or largely forgotten--the frightening years between 1963 and 1973. Drawing on court transcripts, public records, interviews, diaries, and other firsthand sources, English vividly recreates this lawless era by focusing his lens on three memorable characters. His obvious concern for his subjects and the shocking events they relate propel the narrative with a surprising urgency. At times, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, English seems a bit naïve, and some readers may struggle with the multitude of names, places, and incidents. Nevertheless, The Savage City, a taut and riveting exposé of one of American history's darker moments, will outrage readers from its opening pages and compel them to relive the terror.