REVIEW: The New York Nobody Knows
CONCLUSION The New York Nobody Knows is an idea with a lot of potential, but the execution was subpar.
In his book, The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, William B. Helmreich details his wanderings of New York City’s neighborhoods, observing sights, sounds, and situations along the way. Helmreich says it was inspired by a game he and his father used to play when he was a kid. The game, called “Last Stop,” involved taking the subway to the last stop on the line with his father and exploring whichever neighborhood they found themselves in. Years later, Helmreich revisits the neighborhoods and explores themes of immigration, community, and gentrification within them.
On the surface, the subject matter of The New York Nobody Knows is compelling. However, the book seldom dives deeper. Helmreich is a professor of sociology at the City University of New York and it shows in his writing. He tackles the book with an ethnographic approach, immersing himself in the environment, but employs lengthy exposition. While the book contains in-depth information about social and historical trends, it could use a healthy dose of narrative and descriptors to make it more immersive. Interviews with residents of the communities he writes about are short and few and far between. Oftentimes he doesn’t even include their names. Helmreich showers the reader with information and supplies his thoughts and opinions to fill the narrative gap, leading to statements of the obvious. The result is a story about him rather than a story about New York City.
The New York Nobody Knows is an idea with a lot of potential, but the execution was subpar.