Cover image for Brooklyn : a state of mind
Brooklyn : a state of mind
Robbins, Michael W.
Publication Information:
New York : Workman Pub., [2001]

Physical Description:
xxxix, 392 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F129.B7 B6525 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Here is Arthur Miller on Midwood, Mel Brooks on Williamsburg, Spike Lee on Fort Green. David McCullough sees Truman, F. Murray Abraham deconstructs Brooklynese, Jerry Della Famina describes those hot summer nights, and Nora Guthrie remembers living with her father Woody in Coney Island. There's the West Indian Day parade and the Neptune Parade, Ebbet's Field Sym-phony and Norman Mailer in a homeless shelter, pigeon-racing and parakeets in Green-wood Cemetery, Junior's cheesecake, the judge in the Gotti trial, the world's best handball player, and a wise guy's guide to dining.

BROOKLYN, the book, tells it all. Packed with the accent, the attitude, the smarts, with nostalgia, respect, awe, laughter and news, BROOKLYN taps into one of Brooklyn's best resources-its army of writers-to tell the story of America's home town. For over 250 years immigrants from all over the world have lived in the neighborhood called Brooklyn, and fanned out to the rest of the country. An 81 square mile patchwork of city, college town, quiet fishing village, industrial center, bedroom community, and seaport, Brooklyn is the Dodgers, Walt Whitman, Mrs. Stahl's knishes, the bridge-and BROOKLYN, an obsessive and definitive book that's as colorful, interesting, and quirky as the world it celebrates. Fugehdabboudit!

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

With a disproportionate share of literati residing in Brooklyn, N.Y., the place has been the subject of plenty of books, from guidebooks to nostalgia-fests to coffee-table histories, but this handsome "illustrated collection of true and original stories about life in Brooklyn past and present" is unique. Contributors range from noted Brooklynites (Mel Brooks, Arthur Miller, Spike Lee, Susan Brownmiller) to savvy local journalists. "The Brooklyn state of mind is combative, wry, resilient," declares essayist Phillip Lopate, and the individuals who pass through from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to handball king Joe Durso illustrate the point. Predictable subjects like the Brooklyn Bridge and Junior's cheesecake are handled well, while less-storied subjects are also charming: the proprietor of Bargemusic (a local musical series held on, yes, a barge) and restaurants where one just might meet a made man from La Cosa Nostra. Short pieces covering the incorporation of Brooklyn into New York City in 1898, the preservation of architecturally notable Brooklyn Heights, the famous folk buried at Greenwood Cemetery and films made in Brooklyn offer a good grasp of the borough's history and institutions. Some subjects are slighted why a timeline for the 20th century, but not the 19th, when Brooklyn was a separate city? And despite its protestations to the contrary, the book is permeated with nostalgia. Still, this rich compendium is a welcome contribution to anyone devoted to or curious about "the better borough." Photos, illus. (Aug. 8) Forecast: Were it still independent, Brooklyn would be the fourth largest city in the United States. With a high number of readers per capita, it should prove fertile soil for this paean. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"I sing of Brooklyn, the fruited plain, cradle of genius, and stand up comedy, awash in history, relics of Indian mounds, Dutch farms, Revolutionary War battles, breweries and baseball." Thus begins an ode to a community that today would constitute the fourth-largest city in the nation had it not merged with New York City in 1898. Through 125 essays (written by such celebrities as Spike Lee and Arthur Miller) and interviews, a broad array of Brooklyn history is explored: from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, from Coney Island to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, from the West Indian Day parade to Green-Wood Cemetery, from beer to boxing. The raucous nostalgia for the city of old is reinforced with hundreds of black-and-white photographs. Those seeking a more critical history must look elsewhere, but for those who want their local history to go down as easy as buttered popcorn, this celebratory work will be a real joy. Recommended for public library travel and New York history collections. Christopher Brennan, SUNY Brockport (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



BEING FROM BROOKLYN: It's not a borough, it's a country Interview with Jerry Della Femina Brooklyn people have "street smarts." Sure it's an overused term, but the fact is, people from Brooklyn almost never get mugged. They have that ability to size up whoever is walking toward them-that Brooklynite way of sensing what other people are all about. Once I had a boss who came from Brooklyn, and he always knew when I was looking for a job. He'd say, "Are you looking for a job today, kid?" and it drove me crazy. I'd say, "No no no," and he'd say, "C'mon, you are looking for a job today." Then two or three months would go by and I'd have an interview, and he would look at me and say, "Are you going to an interview today?" Finally I said, "I'll admit I'm going for an interview if you tell me how you always know." And he said, "Your shoes. The only time you shine your shoes is when you have an interview." That is so Brooklyn-looking at something or someone and not just seeing them but figuring out how they affect you and how to deal with it. It's an interesting sense, and everyone from Brooklyn has it. I think it's passed on in families. We Brooklynites really did come from a time when sizing up other people, understanding what they were doing, what they were up to (and it might not even be bad), was important. In some cases it was life-saving: I grew up in an area where some people turned out to be gangsters. And you knew when you talked to them-first of all you tried not to talk to them as often as you could-but you really knew. One guy named Joe G. was a psychopathic killer, and you knew when you played ball with him that when he said he was safe on second . . . he was safe on second. It could be that you tagged him out on first, but he was safe on second. I am always hesitant to say I came from a bad neighborhood. I think there was a time when my neighborhood was a bad neighborhood, but I find that the more people accomplish in life, the poorer their neighborhood becomes. One thing I want to hear is someone who has accomplished something great say, "Oh, I came from a wonderful neighborhood." Occasionally I go back to my old neighborhood. What I love about Brooklyn is that it doesn't really change. The specific people change, the look changes, but the work ethic doesn't change. The sensibility doesn't change. In my part of Brooklyn, which was the Gravesend section, people are still the same. For example, they still won't talk about the Mafia. I wrote this book about the neighborhood called An Italian Grows in Brooklyn, and my own mother wouldn't read it. She really didn't like that I said things about the Mafia in Brooklyn. In fact, she was terrified: "You just don't do that. You don't talk about these people." I remember once using the word "Mafia" in front of my grandmother and she slapped me. "You can't say that," she said. "Somebody will hear." I pointed out that we were alone in the house. There probably isn't even that much of a Mafia left anymore, but these people don't care, it is just not to be discussed. Joe G. was finally killed by the Mafia, and it was like a movie. They took a dead fish and put it into what was clearly his clothing and threw it in front of his girlfriend's house. She lived across the street from me, and the arrival of the dead fish was an event. And this is not just out of The Godfather-this is long before that movie. In that neighborhood, you did get a sense of knowing who a person was and what was going on. I lived in the middle of West Seventh Street. We still own the house. In the 1940s Mr. Kahn, the gentleman who owned the house, offered to sell it to my mom for $2,000. She pointed out to him that $2,000 was more money than there was in the entire world. And of course we couldn't afford it, so we rented for all that time. Over the years we just paid rent and then it got to a point where Mr. Kahn was going to sell a whole string of houses and we were in danger of losing our home. But by then it was no longer $2,000-I think now it was like $6,000. My mom put down the smallest down payment she could, took loans from Household Finance and every financial company in the world and managed to buy the house with a thirty- or forty-year mortgage. She got very sick a while back and I didn't want her to be in a house where she has to walk up the steps to do anything, so I moved her into Manhattan on East End Avenue. But I knew that if I ever sold the house in Brooklyn, she'd think she was going to die. So we still own the house. The house is very narrow, with two floors exactly alike. And in that house there was my mom, my dad, me, my brother, my grandmother, my grandfather and my uncle. In the movie Radio Days, which was about living in Brooklyn, the thing that Woody Allen did so brilliantly was to show how we were able to live in these tight places. My brother and my uncle slept in the bed in the side room. My grandmother and grandfather slept in the middle room. My mother and father slept in the front room. And these were tiny rooms-the house itself was tiny. Yet we never got in each other's way. We never brushed against each other, never pushed each other. It was almost like someone was doing choreography: we were able to weave through one another, going from one room to the one bathroom without making contact. The streets were wonderful. On hot summer nights in Brooklyn, everyone came out and put their chairs outside on this tiny narrow street. The kids would play ball, "kick the can" and "Johnny on the pony." We did not have play dates. What we did have was this incredible community of people who were all very much like us. And there was music. I played the mandolin (every little Italian boy plays the mandolin, except if they're blind, in which case they play the accordion). There was always one man who could play the guitar, and sometimes we would play together. I was a little kid and everyone was so amazed that there I was, playing the mandolin when I was eight, nine or ten. It was during the war years, but there was a real sense of peace. In those days, if you were alive and you had a job you were a success. You had very few things. You had food, which was important because it was about showing love. And there was great planning around food and great talk of food, and great thinking about food and planned meals and family dinner time. Brooklyn is where the family really hung on the longest and was the most important-it's not just the Brooklyn Italians, it's the Brooklyn Jews, the Brooklyn everybody. It was about family then, because family was all you had. Consequently we spent our time visiting each other, enjoying each other. The family feeling, the work ethic and the great fun gave everybody from Brooklyn this incredible leg up on people from other places. It's always a mistake to think that Brooklyn is a borough. Brooklyn is a country. There is this country called Brooklyn, and people respect it. It is a country to the rest of the world, a place where people are different from them. We had our provinces, our different sections, Italian, Jewish, black and Irish, and kids fought "gang wars," but in comparison to today it was relatively benign. And everyone was proud of where they came from, proud of their high school. There is still absolute awe when people hear someone is from Brooklyn. (I used to think that came from the movies, but there aren't movies anymore where somebody says he's from Brooklyn and people applaud.) I know all these people who, when they talk about themselves, always talk about Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a great place to be from. It really does help you. If I go to a meeting and someone says he's from Brooklyn, there is an immediate kinship. Jerry Della Femina is a restaurateur who also writes a column for the East Hampton Independent. Excerpted from Brooklyn: A State of Mind by Michael W. Robbins, Wendy Palitz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Jerry Della FeminaRay SuarezSean KellyBurkhard BilgerEli WallachJon GartenbergF. Murray AbrahamJoe GilfordSean KellyFrank Graham, Jr.Carl E. PrinceDavid SeidemanCharles SiebertDavid LevineArthur MillerKevin BakerJon GartenbergRichard SnowSeymour ChwastBruce D. StutzFrank Graham, Jr.Mara Faye LethemLeonard GarmentDenis HamillMichael W. RobbinsDick ZigunJerry ReinsdorfGrace LichtensteinGenia GouldRoger RubinMichael KamberJon GartenbergMara Faye LethemJerry NachmanJoe Gilford and David SeidemanDorothy WeissEugene RichardsMel BrooksHarvey ShapiroSu AvasthiDenis HamillMichael W. RobbinsGenia GouldKenneth TuranHoward SchultzGlenn ThrushDavid McCulloughSusan BrownmillerGenia GouldEliot FeldHarvey LichtensteinPatricia CurtisMargaret A. DalyJon GartenbergBilly AltmanGlenn ThrushS.H. Fernando, Jr.Marc KirkebyJoe GilfordLarry BlumenfeldLarry BlumenfeldCarol CooperAnn LandiMichael KamberJoe GlickmanJon GartenbergAnne KostickMonique GreenwoodStephen ByersMargaret A. DalyHelen Zelon and Patricia CurtisMichael KamberL.J. DavisMichael KamberPhil BergerMichael W. RobbinsSu AvasthiGlenn ThrushMatthew PostalPatricia CurtisJoe FodorHenry Hope ReedHelen ZelonJeffrey RichmanPatricia CurtisAnne KostickStephan WilkinsonHelen ZelonMichael W. RobbinsJon GartenbergKevin BakerJoseph M. McCarthyPatricia CurtisSean KellyPeter KaminskyMinda NovekNick ViorstYi Shun LaiJanet ReitmanMichael W. RobbinsDavid PlowdenAnne KostickMargaret A. DalyGenia GouldStephan WilkinsonGenia GouldMargaret A. DalyJon GartenbergJon GartenbergSpike LeeDorothy WeissGenia GouldJulian E. BarnesGenia GouldStephen HindyGlenn ThrushJoseph McCarthyJon GartenbergBillie CohenBruce D. StutzBillie CohenGenia GouldFrank AngelCarl SafinaTara GeorgeTara George
Prefacep. xii
Introduction: My Hometownp. xv
The Time Line 1900-2000p. xix
1. A Mythic Place
Being from Brooklynp. 3
Brooklyn Neighborhoodsp. 6
The America Factoryp. 7
A Glossary of Brooklynesep. 10
The Brooklyn Accentp. 11
A Brooklyn Accent Saves the Dayp. 13
Brooklyn on Film: In Love with a Wonderful Bridgep. 14
The Accent Onstagep. 15
Joe Gilford on Jackp. 16
What's So Funny?p. 17
Casey Comes to Townp. 20
Our Common Groundp. 22
And the Band Played On ...p. 25
The Secret Life of the Brooklyn Bridgep. 26
Literary Lightsp. 31
Portraits of the Artistsp. 36
Memories of Midwoodp. 40
2. Coney Island
The Original Fantasy Islandp. 47
Brooklyn on Film: Coney Island--a Great Locationp. 54
Postcards from Coneyp. 55
Days at the Beachp. 59
Woody's Home Placep. 62
A Whale of a Stuntp. 65
The Cyclonep. 67
On the Boardwalkp. 71
For the Coney Kidsp. 72
Brooklyn's Big Day at the Beachp. 75
Marriage, Cyclone Stylep. 78
Coney Island Livesp. 79
3. The Streets
City Sportsp. 83
A My Name Is Alicep. 85
Play's the Thingp. 87
Hoop Dreamsp. 89
Survival of the Toughestp. 92
Brooklyn on Film: The Chase of the Centuryp. 94
Tales from the Coney Island Pigeon Exchangep. 97
Potluck in Red Hookp. 101
The Joint Is Mobbedp. 103
One Tough Judgep. 107
Hot Summer Dayp. 112
Williamsburg Daysp. 114
Brooklyn Snapsp. 118
Haitian Brooklynp. 120
Sammy's Kidsp. 122
Ridden in Angerp. 125
Hair Storyp. 127
A Cinematic Dream of Brooklynp. 129
Growing Up Poorp. 132
4. Pulpits and Stages
Presidents and Kingsp. 137
Harry Truman: Live and in Color in Brooklynp. 142
Flatbush Girlp. 143
Lifting the Gigliop. 145
Passionate Companyp. 148
BAM!p. 151
All About the Brooklyn Music Schoolp. 154
Defining Olgap. 155
Brooklyn on Film: An Act of Courage in Flatbushp. 157
Big Beat at the Paramountp. 158
Midnight in "Moscow"p. 161
Bass Revivalp. 163
The King in Kinds Countyp. 166
Pipsp. 169
Jazz Scene in Fort Greenep. 171
The House That Betty Builtp. 173
On Any Sundayp. 175
5. Scenes
The Williamsburg Scenep. 181
Red Hook's Last, Best Barp. 184
Joe Durso, Handball Wizardp. 187
Brooklyn on Film: What Makes a Neighborhood?p. 190
My Night with Norman Mailerp. 191
An Inner-City Innp. 193
The Real Cow Palacep. 197
Wholly Lights in Dyker Heightsp. 199
The Very First Children's Museump. 201
Flatbush Spectaclep. 202
Brooklyn's Grand Old Restaurantp. 210
Satmar Lifep. 213
Rings of Passionp. 216
The Smith Street Turnaroundp. 219
The Breakfast Clubp. 220
Brooklyn's Poet Laureatep. 221
6. The Look
Public Places, Public Spacesp. 225
The Wildest Place in Prospect Parkp. 230
Of Time and the Towerp. 231
Grand Army Memorialp. 235
Late Bloomerp. 238
Bury My Batsp. 241
Little Green Gatekeepersp. 244
Trapped in Green-Wood!p. 245
Who's Who in Green-Woodp. 246
The Lost Airmen of Floyd Bennett Fieldp. 248
Hattie's Indomitable Magnoliap. 251
The Last Steam Enginep. 253
Brooklyn on Film: A Tale of Young Immigrantsp. 255
The Boerum Hill Reservationp. 256
Moses vs. Brooklyn Heightsp. 260
7. The Waterfront
Canal Dreamsp. 267
Lyric Gowanusp. 271
There's Something About the Gowanusp. 273
Brooklyn's Fertile Coastp. 276
The Boardwalk Cafes of Brighton Beachp. 278
The Once and Future Lundy'sp. 279
Down to the Sea in Party Boatsp. 283
The Floating Opera of Red Hookp. 285
Brooklyn on Film: The Life of a Longshoremanp. 287
The Wharf Rat and Shutterbugp. 289
The Greatest View in the Worldp. 290
8. Made in Brooklyn
The Best Cheesecake in the Galaxyp. 295
The Domino Effectp. 299
Where Do Carousels Come From?p. 300
The Ansonia Clockworksp. 304
The Essential Knishp. 305
Vitagraph Picturesp. 308
Brooklyn on Film: Spike Lee Does the Right Thingp. 311
Growing Up and Shooting Moviesp. 312
Two Machines, Two Worldsp. 315
The Making of Penicillinp. 318
Bespoke Suitsp. 319
The Tank Tops of New Yorkp. 322
How Brooklyn Got Its Brew Backp. 323
9. Almost Lost
The Mistake of '98?p. 331
The First Big Fightp. 336
Brooklyn on Film: The Guy from Brooklyn in World War IIp. 340
Torch Songsp. 341
Diamond in the Roughp. 345
Man of the Peoplep. 348
Saving Roebling's Drawingsp. 353
Ivan Karp: Pioneer of Urban Salvagep. 357
Saving a Palacep. 359
The Portentous Toadp. 363
Weeksville, Lost and Foundp. 366
Henri and Brooklynp. 371
The Last Days of the Eaglep. 372
Photo Creditsp. 374
Indexp. 375