On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square

Front Cover
Random House, 2006 - 264 pages
Described as “a continuous carnival” and “the crossroads of the world,” Times Square is a singular phenomenon: the spot where imagination and veracity intersect. To esteemed scholar and author Marshall Berman, it is also the flashing, teeming, and strangely beautiful nexus of his life. In this remarkable book, Berman takes us on a thrilling illustrated tour of Times Square, revealing a landscape both mythic and real. On the Town is a unique look through the lens of the ideas and works of art that inspired–or were inspired by–this landmark’s allure.
Times Square pulses with life, drawing countless millions who long to be surrounded by too many in the midst of too much. Beyond the immense crowds, the intoxicating lights, the imposing architecture, and even the recent incursion of corporate headquarters that limn the Square’s present boundaries, there is an indefatigable humanity (and undeniable sexual tension) that, for more than a century, has nourished creative expression.
Interleafing his own recollections with astute social commentary, Berman reveals how movies, graphic arts, literature, popular music, television, and, of course, the Broadway theater have reflected Times Square’s voluminous light to illuminate a vast spectrum of themes and vignettes. Berman shows us Times Square as it is seen in Alfred Eisenstadt’s iconic photography, the movies of Busby Berkeley, John Schlesinger, and Martin Scorsese, and the stage choreography of Jerome Robbins.
Conversely, we see how Times Square’s distinctive aura finds its source in a stunningly diverse list of performers, writers, and impresarios, including Theodore Dreiser, Florenz Ziegfeld, Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Berman also celebrates the unsung heroes of Times Square–the artists, engineers, and hucksters behind the Square’s landmark signs that, throughout the decades, re-created raging waterfalls, blew smoke rings, bathed onlookers in the Square’s eerily welcoming light, and projected the image of what Americans want to be against a surface of who we really are.
Part love letter, part revelatory semiotic exposition of a place known to all, On the Town is a nonstop excursion to the heart of American civilization, written by one of our keenest, most entertaining cultural observers.

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ON THE TOWN: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square

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From cultural critic Berman (Adventures in Marxism, 1999, etc.), a windy critical essay on Times Square's past and present, focusing primarily on the films and plays that were set there.The Broadway ... Read full review

On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Berman (Distinguished Professor of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Ctr.) readily admits his affinity for New York City's Times Square, an area where his parents met and where his own memories ... Read full review


Times Squares Signs
Al Jolsons Jazz Singer
Sailors in the Square

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About the author (2006)

Marshall Berman is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at City College of New York and CCNY Graduate Center, where he teaches political theory and urban studies. He writes frequently for The Nation and The Village Voice, and serves on the editorial board of Dissent. He is the author of The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society and All That Is Sold Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity.

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