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American Passage: The History of Ellis Island

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  403 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
For most of New York's early history, Ellis Island had been an obscure little island that barely held itself above high tide. Today the small island stands alongside Plymouth Rock in our nation's founding mythology as the place where many of our ancestors first touched American soil. Ellis Island's heyday—from 1892 to 1924—coincided with one of the greatest mass movements ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Harper (first published 2009)
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Dec 22, 2009 Karen rated it it was ok
This probably deserves more like 2 1/2 stars. I also feel bad because it is not that this is a bad or poorly written book, it's just that it was not what I was expecting. This is a scholarly and somewhat dry history of Ellis Island. Although it does include the stories of immigrants who went through the island, there is too much (in my opinion) about the administration and political bickering surrounding the island. I am interested in the politics of immigration overall, but less so in just the ...more
Tom Spann
Jun 10, 2013 Tom Spann rated it it was amazing
An historical masterpiece. Much has been written about Ellis Island, and I have not read it all. But I cannot imagine how any historian could write a better account of Ellis Island. American Passage is not just about an immigrant receiving station in the New York harbor. On a much broader scale it is a story of America's still unresolved struggle over immigration itself. A struggle that was acute enough in the heyday of Ellis Island but exists today on a scale unimaginable in the early days of i ...more
American Passage tells the history of Ellis Island from a multifaceted lens including social, political and economic history that helped to shape this American Icon of Immigration. As one of the main points of entry for immigrants coming from Europe during the immigration booms of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Ellis Island was a symbol for of hope for immigrants as almost 99 percent who landed passed through quickly. Success in quarantine disease and limiting dangerous immigrants were abound ...more
Johnny Williams
Feb 03, 2013 Johnny Williams rated it really liked it
well Just when I was awarding three stars --it hit me about how much in depth research had to go into this book --and I added a star. This is certainly not a armchair read-- you lean back with and just enjoy but rather one that you sit up straight and learn. It is more of a textbook than anything else. That being said it is a top shelf text on our immigration system--it humanistic slant-- its policy slant --its evil and good all wrapped up for us. You will see how personalities first ruled the s ...more
Ana Rusness-petersen
Amazing book!

I selected this book to read in collaboration with the "Ghosts of Ellis Island" book, which had drawn me, as a photographer, into the subject matter, but which was mostly images and little text. I wanted to know more about the history of the place in its heyday, and how it got to its present state - something to correspond and contrast with the amazingly and colorful images taken of the dilapidated island and its buildings left to succumb to nature after Ellis Island's functional pe
Gary Null
My goal when I began reading this book was to get a better understanding of what my grandfather and his family experienced when they immigrated through Ellis Island from Germany in 1904 and 1905. I was pleasantly surprised to gather a “boat load” (pun intended) of additional information about the times.

This is a fascinating read and was difficult to put down. It’s amazing how many similarities there are between concerns about immigration today and the attitudes of 100 years ago. There were conce
Dec 01, 2010 Diane rated it it was amazing
Well-researched and written history of Ellis Island, and American immigration policy more generally in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The author combines human interest stories about the immigrants and the people who worked on the island with a more macro-level study of immigration and attitudes towards immigration throughout American history.
Jan 11, 2017 Dorinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in the history of the US and of immigration specifically, this is an excellent read. Cannato puts in just enough stories about actual immigrants, to keep it from getting too dry. I highly recommend this. Had trouble putting it down.
Apr 07, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
The image of the melting pot, of America as a nation of immigrants, is a powerful one, and few things define that mythical image as Ellis Island does. The twin icons of Liberty and Ellis Islands together symbolise the ideological conflict at the heart of the history of immigration in America, and it is this conflict between the open and closed door, between Liberty Island as a beacon of hope and freedom and welcome and Ellis Island as a sieve to restrict and control immigration, that Cannato cap ...more
Ken Bronsil
Sep 23, 2009 Ken Bronsil rated it really liked it
Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island saw about twelve million immigrants pass through its doors, hoping to enter and settle in the United States. It also functioned as a detention center: for those people who were refused entrance and were to be deported back across the ocean; for people detained because of health conditions; and even for American residents suspected of being a threat to national security during periods of war.

During those years America’s immigration policies were made, debated,
Al Young
Oct 03, 2013 Al Young rated it it was amazing
his was a gift and I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise, but I am glad I did. It's a fascinating history about a place you only probably know few details about.

This is not a 'everything was rosy' promo book nor a 'these were the headline events' brief book. This book culls information from newspaper articles and interviews from the day. It makes for a super interesting read for anybody who likes the 'day-to-day' history books.

In short, immigration has always been the same argument (ev
Oct 23, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Ellis Island was America's largest immigration arrival location from 1892 to 1954. The story of the Island is in part a story of America and the millions of people who came him as refugees, workers, dreamers. This well-written history will give you an idea of the politics of immigration (not much changes), and the individuals who worked there and traveled through.

Most of the millions coming through had no problems. It is the stories of the ones who were detained that is most interesting--for ill
Oct 23, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it
I chose 4 stars for this book, because I truly enjoyed it. That is from my perspective and in saying that if I were not particulary fascinated with this subject then it may get tough to make it through the close to 500 pages without going dry.

Personally, I have a deep connection somewhat fabricated, somewhat real with my Grandfather who entered through these same gates with a coach class ticket and $16 in his pocket. Otherwise, he was just hoping he could make it to his brother's apartment on Mo
TR Peterson
Nov 28, 2015 TR Peterson rated it liked it
Shelves: unowned
Cannato gives us an informative book, but not of the type one might be expecting. Undoubtedly a great deal of research has gone into the writing of this history but one cannot help but feel that it is written far too often from the point of view of bureaucrats and officials and not the immigrants themselves. Where there are personal stories, they tend to be the ones that have been previously publicized.[return][return]While Cannato attempts objectivity with his subjects he clearly paints immigra ...more
Lizzy Attwood
Sep 19, 2013 Lizzy Attwood rated it really liked it
Firstly one has to applaud Mr. Cannato, as the research behind this book must have taken him a life time! It’s a fantastic mixture of politics, personal stories and pure history. This book has the reader wanting more. This book shows America at its best and worst. He is surprisingly un bias, when describing what is his home nation. When you read this you are sent off to a older world, and wonder what it must have been like for the immigrants, politicians, inspectors and people already citizens. ...more
Fiona Veitch
Jan 09, 2016 Fiona Veitch rated it it was amazing
I intended to read this book as background research for something I am working on that involves immigration to America via Ellis Island in the early 1920s. I was hoping to dip in and out of it as needed. However, I couldn't put it down. Although way beyond my remit I read it from cover to cover. Cannato, a political historian, is also a compelling storyteller. And that's what brought this book to life for me. He seamlessly weaves stories of real people into the narrative with their hopes and dre ...more
Jun 20, 2015 Trevor rated it really liked it
The more things change the more they stay the same. That is what I kept thinking while reading this interesting history of Ellis Island d and immigration in the United States. It is a readable if occasionally scholarly account of Ellis Island. The most interesting parts of the book focus on the individual stories of immigrants that are occasionally representative of a larger group experience. The pace occasionally slowed when political or administrative issues surrounding the island are discusse ...more
Feb 27, 2011 Michelle rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club-2
Whew! A lot of information in this book. Interesting, brought on a lot of discussion in my book club (which should make me move this up on the number of stars because I do like books that lead to discussions), and makes you think about our past and present immigration situations, but ahhhhh, this was not a fun book to read. It felt like a chore. I mainly read it on a plane when I was trapped with it and had to read it. But even then, I switched over to Ulysses sometimes to catch a break (wasn't ...more
Jeni Enjaian
The narrator made this book incredibly boring. Well, it's not entirely his fault. He didn't have great material to work with to start. This book lacks focus. Instead of there being a unifying theme, the author seems to delight in telling the tales of every rejected immigrant for which he has primary source data. At the same time, he repeatedly reminds the reader that only a small percentage of immigrants were turned away. It would be difficult to discern that from his narrative. His chronology a ...more
Paul Roper
Jun 09, 2016 Paul Roper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have worked at Ellis Island for the past 25 years, yet this is the first actual history I have read about the site, and it was a heckuva way to start!

I have mostly referred to the historic reference books and original documents for information about Ellis Island, especially pre-Immigration Station days. I am expected to answer any and all questions about the site that visitors may ask me, and I have discovered many anecdotes about the Ellis Island story. Mr. Cannato has "filled in the blanks"
Jun 14, 2010 George rated it liked it
READS LIKE A TEXTBOOK. Albeit a rather interesting textbook.

“No one has a right to come into the United States, or become a part of its citizenship, except by permission of the people of the United States.”—Henry Cabot Lodge (1908) (pg. 417)

[Yeah. Good luck with that.:]

Exhaustively researched, steeped with names and dates, ‘American Passage: The History of Ellis Island,’ by Vincent J. Cannato is a very comprehensive look at a very interesting place. More anecdotal human-interest profiles of some
Oct 12, 2014 Dana rated it liked it
The subtitle of this book really should be "the history of immigration policy." The island itself is used more as a jumping off point to the larger history of the policies and politics that governed it's use. Still interesting, just not quite what I was expecting. Well written and researched. Parts of it dragged and parts of it held my attention more. With a psychology background, I was especially enthralled with the section on how officials went about determining if an immigrant was "feeble-min ...more
Nov 01, 2012 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vincent Cannato, descendant of Italian immigrants who passed through the notorious immigration station in New York, traces the history of the site through the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I visited Ellis Island twice as a child, but was never able to imagine what it must have been like to arrive there. Ive only ever known it as a museum rather than the nightmarish welcome to America that it must have been in its day, and I found that this book helped to bring that into focus for me. I ...more
Michelle Streufert
Jan 19, 2015 Michelle Streufert rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It is an important read to truly understand the history of immigration and the role of Ellis Island. The current perception of Ellis Island from what visitors of the national park "monument" of it is about as far from the actual history of it as the distance immigrants traveled before arriving at its doors. The depth of discrimination that occurred there and the acrid treatment of detainees held there during and after world wars is harrowing. It leaves the reader ques ...more
Jan 19, 2016 Lisa rated it really liked it
There is a lot of detail in this book, perhaps more than the average person wants to know, but the anecdotes are fascinating, as are the discussions of what sorts of people (feeble-minded, morons, weak, sickly, deformed, and so on) were not allowed to enter the US, and which ethnic groups (British and German) were preferred, the latter at least until WWI. (Other groups, such as Russian, Italian, and Jewish, were allowed to a certain extent, but Chinese: not at all.)
My grandparents and aunts/unc
Nov 20, 2014 Crysta rated it liked it
More about immigration policy than the island itself, Cannato's tome traces the history of American immigration. Ellis Island was the first place the federal government had any real role in immigration - before Ellis opened in 1892, states essentially handled it themselves. While Cannato tended to repeat anecdotes in different places rather than simply use them to link some of the main concepts, I learned a lot from his book and it was worth the read. It's also fascinating to realize how cyclica ...more
Alan Dutka
This excellently-written and well-research book presents a history of Ellis Island, artfully combining human, cultural, legal and political perspectives. The chronicle begins with the island’s function as a place for execution of criminals and concludes with its current use as an immigration museum. In between, laborers, merchants, anarchists and prostitutes entered the United States while administrators and politicians debated the country’s policies toward immigrants. The story of American immi ...more
Sep 15, 2009 Heather rated it really liked it
Immigrants had to be incredibly strong and brave to make the journey to the "America" of their hopes and dreams. Often, they were mistreated or even denied entry and were deported back to their native country, heartbroken and poor, with a new disgust or distrust for America.

I recently (09/10/09) had the pleasure of listening to the author discuss his book at a local independent bookstore. It was interesting to hear his personal opinions and learn how he came to research and write this book. A ni
Frank Stein
Sep 18, 2009 Frank Stein rated it really liked it

A solid book that opened my eyes to the political battle over Ellis Island when it was the central entrepot for immigrants during the 1892 to 1924 period. Cannato also chronicles its lamentable history before that period (as a site for pirate executions) and after (a part-time prison, and site of a Nixon sponsored (!) black revolutionary separatist group).

Cannato spends too much time on bureaucratic infighting, and on countless anecdotes, but this is the only book out there on the subject, and i
David Marxer
Dec 05, 2010 David Marxer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From high politics to stories of common and not so common immegrants, from the history of immigration laws and those who enforced them not only at Ellis Island but other ports of entry also, this book stands as the best. What stands out about this book over others is the way the author took in 'the whole picture' and never failed to mention that when there were times when things were not going well for some European immigrants that it was NOTHING compared to what Chinese and other Asians had to ...more
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