The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren (Simon & Schuster, 2022).
This history of a famous residential hotel and some of the famous – Molly Brown, Sylvia Plath, Grace Kelly, Joan Didion – and not so famous women who lived there, is also the history of women, gender and class (and New York real estate, architecture, publishing and fashion and design trends) in the 20th century, from the hotel’s opening in 1927, to the early 21st century. Some of the women lived there for a short but galvanizing month, often as part of the coveted Mademoiselle magazine’s guest editor program, and others for decades while the building was bought and sold and revamped around them. What remained constant were the conflicting messages delivered to women, a tension heightened by the fact that most of the women who found themselves at the hotel were driven by professional ambition. As much as women were restricted in work, manners, dress, body size, and countless other confinements, Bren argues that the Barbizon uniquely allowed women to take a bold step toward independence and achieving their dreams.
-- Kathleen Collins
The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhoods Politics in New York City by Roger Sanjek (Cornell University Press, 1998).
In his aptly titled book, Roger Sanjek, an anthropologist at Queens College, documented the dramatic demographic transformation of Queens from the 1970s into the 1990s, focusing on the neighborhoods of Elmhurst and Corona. In 1960, the area was 98 percent white. In the following decade the percentage dropped by a third, and in 1980, it was only 34 percent white. In 1990, the white population of Elmhurst-Corona stood at only 18 percent, with Asians numbering 26 percent, Hispanics 45 percent, and African-Americans 11 percent. Sanjek reveals how the residents experienced and coped with, made peace with and resisted rapid demographic change. Surprisingly, perhaps, he found “little overt conflict.”
-- Jeffrey Kroessler