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David Rosen

DAVID ROSEN is a frequent contributor to the Brooklyn Rail. To see more of his work visit

Bottoms-Up American History

Thaddeus Russell’s new book, A Renegade History of the United States, is a collection of great stories about some of the country’s grand down-and-outers—and many others neither down nor out—who normally are either not mentioned or only marginally referred to in more conventional histories.

When Classes Confront Each Other

The Great Recession officially started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. It was the gravest financial crisis the nation has faced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It fostered what many call the “New Normal,” the unspoken sense that America is stuck, if not in decline.

THE GOOD OLD ’70S: The End of the Amerian Century

We live in the shadow of the 1970s. If at all, most Americans remember the “long decade,” the period from 1968 to 1981, by a scattering of historical occurances and a handful of iconic images. A careful reconsideration reveals a lot more.

The 1920s: The Good Times?

The 1920s are back, bigger and better than ever.

The Politics of Fashion

In the decade spanning the mid-1930s to mid-’40s, a new male fashion emerged and gained popularity thoughout the country. It also provoked much controversy. It was the new style of the youthful sharpie, the jitterbuger, the zoot suiter.

WR: The Wanderings of a Lost Soul

On August 23, 1956, agents of the Federal Drug Administration (F.D.A.) seized six tons of scholarly literature from a Greenwich Village warehouse, transported it to the New York Sanitation Department’s Gansevoort Street incinerator, and burned it.

Another Prohibition: Uncovering the Real 1920s

The popularity of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and PBS’s Prohibition, one a multi-season drama series, the other a multi-hour documentary series, has ignited popular interest in the legendary Prohibition era of the Roaring ’20s.

URBAN COMBUSTION: When Morality & Politics Mix

Not unlike today, late 19th century America was an age of robber barons, of white, Christian moral absolutists, of foreign immigration and domestic migration, and of a “progressive” movement contesting capitalism’s excesses.

City at War

In Jules Dassin’s 1948 black-and-white noir classic, The Naked City, the narrator ends the film with the famous lines: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” Steven Jaffe’s well-written and very informative work, New York at War, is also one of those stories.

A City in Crisis

Thai Jones’s More Powerful Than Dynamite is written in the spirit of a-year-in-the-life of Gotham, tracking events, both minimal and momentous, that took place in 1914 (give or take a few years). A century can seem a very long time ago, yet, in Jones’s book, 1914 seems almost like yesterday.

The Body Politic

Nancy Cohen’s book Delirium is a carefully researched and rigorously argued account of the role of sex-related issues in shaping modern American politics.

THE PARTY’S OVER: Welcome to the “New Normal”

In a famous editorial in Life magazine of February 17, 1941, Henry R. Luce, founder of Time Inc., called upon Americans to abandon their deep-seated fear of international entanglements and support Britain through lend-lease during the early days of World War II. The son of Christian missionaries spreading the gospel in China, Luce was infused by an abiding belief in the “white man’s burden.”

PORN WARS: The F.B.I.’s Hidden Campaign to Police Morality

If you caught Clint Eastwood’s less-than-compelling biopic, J. Edgar, you would have never learned about J. Edgar Hoover’s (and the F.B.I.’s) war against pornography. This missing story is the subject of Douglas Charles’s well-intentioned, if too narrowly drawn study, The FBI’s Obscene File.

Cyber Wars 2.0

If you are reading this review from the Rail’s website, you should pick up a copy of Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion. Once you get past the author’s straw-man bashing of those he dubs “cyber-utopians” and the foreign-policy establishment’s Manichean antinomies of “democracy” and “authoritarian” countries, you can learn much about how the “dark side” of the Internet works.

Perversion Is No Longer Perverse

One of the most celebrated houses of ill repute in London during the 1820s – 1830s was the flagellation parlor owned and operated by Mrs. Theresa Berkley at 28 Charlotte Street. According to Mary Wilson, a fellow brothel owner and author of a memoir, Venus School Mistress, Mrs. Berkley “possessed the first grand requisite of a courtesan, viz., lewdness.” 

Deviant Reflections: A Voice for Sexual Freedom

Finally: a collection of Gayle Rubin’s writings. It is long overdue and sorely needed.

The Not-So Roaring Twenties

Speakeasies were social venues of transgression during Prohibition and are once again the in-places for New York hipsters; “hipsters” were those who carried an alcohol-filled hipflask during the Roaring Twenties.


In the decades following the nation’s third sexual revolution of the 1960s-1970s (following those of the 1830s-1840s and 1910s-1920s), sexual practices once ignored or derided by many Americans, such as the female orgasm and homosexuality, became part of mainstream culture.

What Academic Freedom?

Today, we take the concept of “academic freedom” for granted.

Village People

John Strausbaugh has assembled a treasure trove of personality profiles and gossipy tidbits covering the nearly 400-year history of what is broadly identified as Greenwich Village.

Eyes Everywhere

You are constantly being tracked, monitored, and surveilled. Increasingly, aspects of what Americans long took as personal privacy, especially with regard to their communications, are being eroded at an alarming pace. Heidi Boghosian’s new book, Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance, will only deepen your sense of paranoia.

Throwaway Lives

Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is a moving account of the lives and deaths of five prostitutes who represent the sad reality of sex work. The book is an act of resurrection, of turning women who are often dismissed as things back into human beings, people with real lives.

Double Identity

Beau Riffenburgh loves to dig into dusty archives and uncover the lost stories of fascinating historical characters. He shifts course a bit in his latest book, Pinkerton’s Great Detective, about James McParland, one of the nation’s earliest private agents.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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