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3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  592 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
On a freezing night in the middle of a New York winter, a young immigrant is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum’s stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation. Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage to America, he will change his identity many times, find ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published February 14th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Richard Fucci
Feb 09, 2012 Richard Fucci rated it it was ok
Metropolis was difficult to read. It lacked action and was filled with incredibly long descriptions. All in all, I would not recommend it.
The story opens in 1870′s New York City, where recent immigrant Georg Geiermeier, awakens in a stable where he works for P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. The smell of smoke and the sounds of frightened animals is enough for Georg to realize that his life is in danger. Soon enough, he realizes that he is in more trouble than he thought, because he is not only being framed for the fire that ends his employment – someone has set him up on a murder charge.

What follows is an interesting and suspenseful
Connor Roth
Feb 09, 2012 Connor Roth rated it really liked it
Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney is a detailed epic of life in New York at the dawn of the modern age. Gaffney dutifully tends to the development of her characters and the city itself, with no stone left unturned. In addition, Gaffney crafts a compelling love story between the tough Beatrice O’Gamhna and the mysterious Frank Harris. Yet, the book often meanders along, seemingly without any guidance, in detailed descriptions and backstories that lose the reader’s interest. On the whole, Metropolis ...more
Jul 28, 2010 Karen rated it it was ok
I was SO disappointed in this book. I really liked the beginning, especially what seemed to be the premise of exploring a character whose fate rests upon inaction rather than action (and who seems to be like a blank slate -- upon whom others project their fears, anxieties, needs). I also initially liked what seemed to be suspenseful historical fiction, reminiscent of Fingersmith (Sarah Waters).

But as the book progressed, my criticisms were many. My biggest complaint is that the storytelling and
Falls Apart Like A Thin Slice of White Bread In A Rainstorm.

This is a coming to America story with gangs and rats and grit.

It could have been fabulous, unfortunately in my opinion it wasn't very good. I have to say that I agree with the many criticism noted by other readers. I found a distracting inconsistency of style in the writing.

I did not dislike the meticulously detailed style when the author was writing about the sewers, building roads and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. But unfort
Martin Turnbull
Mar 28, 2012 Martin Turnbull rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this story that took the reader through post-Civil War New York. The historical details felt accurate and yet alive as though the author had actually been there. One of the more enjoyable historical reads I’ve had of late.
Susan Arena
Oct 20, 2016 Susan Arena rated it it was ok
Shelves: forgettable
So disappointed. I love this time period in NYC, so I was excited to dive into this book. Unfortunately, it fell short. The slow pace and epic narratives had me turning the page just with the hope that something might actually happen. I hung on until about page 120 then decided it was time to move on. If you enjoy historical fiction with a similar setting, I recommend Caleb Carr, The Alienist. That, is a fantastic book.
Susan White-riggs
Second time around, didn't hold up as well as I hoped, wasn't feeling the style of writing.
May 22, 2012 Gretchen rated it liked it
This was a difficult read for me. The first few chapters brought to mind various works that I have seen or read (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in "Far and Away", Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz in "Gangs of New York" and Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire", as well as several different characters from Ken Follett novels, most notably Tom the Builder in "The Pillars of the Earth"). The thing is, I like all of the above movies/shows/books, so the likenesses should have been a positive thing, but ...more
Aug 15, 2009 Rose rated it really liked it
As an author who has written about New York’s seminal street gangs, I found the premise of Metropolis irresistible. A German immigrant with a shadowy past is wrongly accused of torching Barnum’s circus, resulting in a nationwide manhunt. The Whyos gang shields him from the law by giving him the new identity of Frank Harris, but for a price: he has to get a job as a sewer man and map the city’s maze of underground tunnels, which would make ideal escape routes. Danger lurks in the form of Luther U ...more
Sep 20, 2012 Eilonwy rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book. And to be fair, I did. I just also wanted it to be something it wasn't. I was unimpressed by the characterization- and I don't think it's because of how the main character reinvents himself. As he says, he's still him- but despite learning backstory and following him through years of this book, I still don't know who that is. Also, things happen *to* him; his passivity makes the secondary characters twice as interesting as he is. The other main character, Bea, is far ...more
Lorin Cary
Apr 27, 2014 Lorin Cary rated it really liked it

Elizabeth Gaffney

Metropolis: a novel

The metropolis of New York City in 1869-1870 figures large in this novel. George, a German immigrant was fled an unhappy life is falsely accused of arson and in the process falls in with a gang which provides him with an Irish name and language training. He falls in love with Beatrice, his tutor, but she is chosen by boss Johnny to be his first girl. Frank toils in the sewers and provides the gang with important information, then eases out of the gang and wor
Aug 17, 2007 Kerry rated it it was ok
I'm hoping this gets better. 100 pages in, and the narrator is driving me nuts. Could we PLEASE skip all the "what our young hero did not know..."? I'm giving it another 50-100 pages before I call uncle. It's just too annoying.

UPDATE: Ok, finished it. I guess I'm pretty ambivalent about it. I always love a "cheer for the underdog" kind of story and historical fiction, and this fit the bill for both of them. The narration got better... then took a nose dive. Seriously, the book ends with somethin
Mar 31, 2008 Kirstie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Robert's been a couple of weeks since I read this but I'll do my best. I think the writing in this book is really stellar. I'm not necessarily one for period pieces but to envision an altogether different world of 1870s NYC...a bustling city filled with all kind of immigrants trying to make lives for themselves and willing to take any possible job to survive when they realize that it may have actually been easier to do so in their home country anyways (hmmm...I guess not much has ...more
I had high expectations for this one that started out feeling like good meaty historical fiction. But honestly, I can't go beyond two stars. It just never really took off for me, like a rocket struggling to launch and eventually imploding because the mission is doomed.

I kept at it because I think the author worked hard and researched much to put it together, so I felt I owed her. But really, I found the narration too lengthy and, despite all those pages, the character and relationship developmen
Pamela Mclaren
Apr 27, 2014 Pamela Mclaren rated it really liked it
A broad, sweeping novel as much about New York as the charcters in the 1870s. The city is growing -- hence the segments where the main protagonist is working on the sewer system and the Brooklyn Bridge -- and its population is filled with immigrants. The story focuses on one immigrant, who flees Germany to start a new life with the first of several new names. Seemingly, he is unlucky. Working at P.T. Barnum's museum when it is set aflame (a true story), he is blamed for the fire. Determined to ...more
Jul 29, 2012 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel of 19th century New York. It was very Dickensian and reminded me a lot of Oliver Twist -- Undertoe was very similar to the menacing character Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist and he like Bill received his just desserts in the end. I did have some difficulty buying into the way the gang communicated through singing or "Whyoing" -- a little hard to believe. But otherwise, I really thought the author captured the feel of old New York and the story was obviously ...more
Dec 01, 2009 Tom rated it liked it
On a freezing night in the middle of a New York winter, a young immigrant is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum’s stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation. Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage to America, he will change his identity many times, find himself mixed up with one of the city’s toughest and most enterprising gangs, and fall in love with a smart, headstrong, and ...more
Lulu Grace
Mar 28, 2013 Lulu Grace rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've ever read. After reading Amy Ephron's A Cup of Tea I started wanting to read more period books. And this did NOT let me down in the least. I was hooked from the first page to the very last. And I read it eagerly and with fervor as if I was devouring a big huge chocolate cake for the first time. It was exciting and interesting and dramatic and you just were holding onto your seat wondering what in the world was going to happen next. I put this book on my "book high" ...more
Jan 04, 2012 Janet rated it liked it
This one just didn't wow me...although I'm (admittedly) at that point in a reader's life where you get quite "particular". Although Gaffney's writing style was easy going and quite good, I felt a kind of deja vu. Been there, done was not that different from several other historical books about New York City that I've read over the years. After reading the Author's Note at the end (full of I won't recommend reading it at the beginning), I gained some appreciation for the ...more
Apr 18, 2010 Catherine rated it liked it
I saw several people relate this book to the Gangs of New York movie, but I don't think it was nearly as good as that story, or even the book "Paradise Alley" which was one of my all-time favorite books. Someone did point out correctly that there were numerous inconsitancies in the story, that were fairly obvious, and rather than a break in the text when moving from one subject/scene to another, the author just goes right into it, and you have to catch it or realize that she's moved on to ...more
Jul 15, 2013 Michelle rated it it was ok
This is the other book I quit. Set in the 1900's it is about a young immigrant man who gets caught up in the gangs of New York. While it is supposed to give you a feel for the time, place and some actual gangs that existed, it has a soap opera feel. The hero stumbles around totally oblivious to what happening around him while it gives the gangs the impression he is super sharp and secretive and scheming. So he just falls in with them and things keep going his way to keep the gang on their toes ...more
Nari (The Novel World)
Jun 03, 2012 Nari (The Novel World) rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
The characters are not engaging, the narrator is too full of the author's voice. Statements like: "our man" and "I wouldn't do that to his fate" were annoying and kept disrupting the pace of the story. Gaffney went above and beyond researching the history of New York, and its seedy underbelly. She unfortunately couldn't compose all of the information into a compelling novel. There was too much "telling" and not enough "showing." Pages went on with narration, but none of which added to the plot ...more
Jul 18, 2015 Crt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book, perhaps because I like historical fiction, but it was nicely written. It follows the story of two main characters, Harris, a German immigrant to New York, at about the time the Brooklyn Bridge was being built. He is set up to take the blame for arson, but manages to be "rescued" by a gang. But he's not really a gangster at heart. Of course, there's a love story involved too. He falls in love with one of the gangsters , who also ends up being forced to become the gang leader's ...more
Sarah Ringerud
May 11, 2014 Sarah Ringerud rated it really liked it
This is an epic and complex novel, with complex,imperfect characters. The picture painted of New York City in this time period really drew me in - so much promise, energy, and industry, while at the same time disorganized and dangerous. But what really made this a great read for me was the characters. They were individuals, but at the same time products of both their past and present circumstances. They were complicated and not necessarily likable, but I couldn't stop thinking about them during ...more
Nov 20, 2013 Beth rated it really liked it
This was a really captivating account of old New York. Since seeing gangs of New York, I've really been intrigued by the history of this city, the good, the bad and the ugly. I had never read anything by Elizabeth Gaffney and I am glad to say that she did a good job weaving in history and fiction. The account of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge was amazing. This book has lots of interesting tidbits about New York from the gangs to the swindlers to the people who built the city and lived like ...more
Apr 06, 2013 Helen rated it it was ok
I almost gave it three stars since I started out really liking it, and I was compelled to finish it, but liked it less and less as it went on. I started feeling that "Clan of the Cave Bear" effect where the main character was involved in every major aspect of NYC development in the late 1800s. I also found it weird the way all the characters kept bumping into each other. I don't know if she was going for some sort of literary effect with that, but mostly it just came off as improbable and a lazy ...more
Sep 29, 2009 Laura rated it really liked it
This book is a fun read. I didn't like what the author did with one of the characters (Luther--the serial killer no one suspects??), but I enjoyed the book overall. I didn't really expect to--I picked it up for $5 on a whim--so that may be why I enjoyed it so much. I do, however, dislike the historical fiction trend of making most characters progressive (no one is racist, women should have the vote and not have to be hookers, etc, etc). I had a hard time deciding between 3 or 4 stars and then I ...more
Alethea White-Previs
Jul 18, 2016 Alethea White-Previs rated it really liked it
Historical detail and the sense of sharing the protagonist's uncertainty about who he was and where he was going. It's a novel that truly makes you feel you are an active watcher.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Historical NYC is not typically my fiction locale of choice, but Frank Harris lives the atypical life - from stonemason to stableman to sewerman to gang member to bridge builder. It's a very interesting journey to follow, especially with the attention paid
Aug 14, 2012 Cassy rated it it was amazing
This was a recommendation from my husband and it was a great one! The characters are harsh yet crystal clear. The story follows the main character and keeps you interested throughout. Elizabeth Gaffney must have done her homework, because the backdrop of New York City in the 1800s feels lush and real. The Whyo Gang is intense but with their story, I couldn't put it down. Finished this one in under a week, and a busy week at that!
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