Paradise Alley
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Paradise Alley

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4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  818 ratings  ·  104 reviews

At the height of the Civil War, what begins with strong words and a few broken bottles will, over the course of five days, escalate into the worst urban conflagration in American history. Hundreds of thousands of poor Irish immigrants smolder with resentment against a war and a president that have cost them so many of their young men. When word spreads throughout New York'

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Paperback, 676 pages
Published January 3rd 2006 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2002)
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Jody
I ran across this book by accident, and I am very glad that I did. Kevin Baker does an amazing job of bringing historical fiction to life. This novel takes place during the Civil War draft riots in the 19th century, and examines the events from a variety of perspectives. There are numerous storylines which intertwine at different point, and there are numerous characters that are developed. My only criticism was that it was difficult to follow the many different characters at first, but after a f...more
Carl Brush
Hot with fervor over Kevin Baker’s Dreamland I moved on to Paradise Alley. Even though much of Dreamland revolves around Coney Island, Baker’s attention is never far from the Lower East Side. And it is on the lower east side that Paradise Alley is located, though we’re moved back in time thirty or forty years for this one--the 1863 New York riots in response to the Civil War draft.
Paradise Alley is a small street populated by a mix of economic and racial folks. We’re concerned with three househ...more
Jo-Ann Murphy
Brilliant! Mr. Baker weaves a compelling story I found hard to put down. His descriptions of the potato famine in Ireland and hte poorest of the poor who came to this country to live in the slums of New York city are truly wrenching. I think this book is very relevant today and all those who wish to do away with our government should see what it was like when chalk could be sold to the poor as milk because there was no government regulation. A time when there was no help for soldier's families s...more
Kate
I knew nothing about the draft riots before I read this book. It was amazing that this part of our history isn't something we learn in school. This novel is an exciting, fast paced, engrossing read.

I also LOVED the description of the Irish famine, it was horrible and vividly real.
Elizabeth
It's hard to describe how much I enjoyed this novel, as well as how shocked I was to have done so. There are many elements of the book's paratext I found off-putting. It comes with a cast of characters and a glossary of potentially unfamiliar terms. It is historical fiction, a genre I rarely gravitate towards. Yet despite such "shortcomings," this books was so compelling and masterful I found myself fully engrossed in its massive 665 pages from very early on (much to the detriment of other thing...more
Anna Engel
I enjoyed "Dreamland," but thought "Paradise Alley" was better. His research into the time period was thorough and fascinating. For those who gave up or are thinking of giving up on "Paradise Alley": Be patient. It's a large, heavy book, but it's worth the time and energy.

Organized by character (similar to Game of Thrones, but actually Irish rather than pseudo-Irish), each chapter follows a particular person over the course of the 1863 draft riots. The stories are overlapping and interwoven, som...more
Bérénice
If it was not for the length of the book i would give it 4 stars, but not more. The book is overall about 7 characters, 3 of them who originally came to ireland, who live in NYC during the 1863 draft riots.

The first 400 pages of the book are about Ruth, an irish girl, who came over to the US with Dolan (a brute she met over in ireland and who saved her life). His entire family died during the potato famine of the 40s and he's going to NYC where his Sister Deirdre lives. She is married to Tom wh...more
Sandie
Bakers diligent research, and writing prowess brings an intricate narrative weaving of truth and imagination that completely immerses the reader in the fight for survival in 19th century New York City.

While there are an infinite array of threads to this story, the major character focus is on the three women of the saga, all residents of the waterfront slum called Paradise Alley. Having survived everything from the Irish famine to slavery and prostitution, they find themselves once again struggl...more
Erin
Baker does a fine job capturing various character perspectives of this historical (fictional) account of the 1863 urban conflagration during the unrest of the Civil War. The horror of a mob is captured completely as one watches people who are benign most of the time, suddenly become terrors without any sort of regret. And just as quickly, upon dissipation of the mob, these same people can go back to being incredibly humane.

Basically, the novel takes place over the course of a few days although...more
Judith
Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker recounts three days of terror in New York City during the 1863 draft riots that forced the government to recall Union troops from the Civil War to restore order. Three Irish immigrant women living in the filthy Fourth Ward recall their beginnings and their struggles. Under the cover of mayhem, they are targeted because of their relations with African Americans, the scapegoats of the anti-draft movement, and their men's voices are added to Bakers large cast of charac...more
Adrienne
This book was an enjoyable and very compelling fictional look at the NYC riot that took place when the civil war draft was beginning. The book is written from maybe a dozen characters' views, and each chapter is labeled with a name so you know who is the main character - all are written in the 3rd person with the exception of the character who is a journalist and I guess therefore gets to write his own part :) His name is Herbert Willis Robinson and all of his chapters go very slowly and talk mu...more
Kathy
I found this historical novel to be well-written and carefully researched. The characters were interesting, and their intertwined stories very gripping. There were so many details that I had never been aware of from this time in history. I still can't believe that the people of New York City, even 140 years ago, lived in such horrific conditions. Baker pulls you into the city, and the story, by giving you a complete vision of the time period. For any person who has an interest in history, and a...more
Anne Bryant
I really loved reading this book. I liked the way each chapter was told from a different character's perspective and the way the stories wove together. I learned new things about the history of our country and it made me want to read more, particularly about Irish immigration. It was a long book 600+ pages and only covered 3 days in time but it never felt tedious or drawn out.
Jean
I'm only about halfway through this book and not sure I want to finish. I read Baker's "Dreamland" and liked it, so decided to try this one, too. I guess I just cannot stomach books that are so relentlessly grim and dark. I am enjoying some of the chapters, and I like learning about history through fiction. But I need to be able to trust that the fiction is based on fact, and, having read the Wiki page about Johnny Dolan, I am thinking that Baker has included more gore than necessary and has, in...more
Ann
I don't ever admit to being drawn to historical fiction...instead, I simply admit to liking good stories, better story tellers. So forgive me my T C Boyle...and this book....but this is one helluva book. I wept for the final 30 pages and I. Do. Not. Cry. Masterful story-telling broke me though.
Jason
One of my all-time great "accidental discoveries" when I worked in a bookshop. A fabulously readable story of Irish immigrants, freed slaves, and working class New Yorkers struggling to survive in the chaos of the city amid the violence of the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863.
Molly
One of my favorite books of all time. Undiscovered and underappreaciated. The characters are rich and emotional and the storyline is terrifying and beautiful all at once.
Joyce
long, depressing, but very well written...a good story for historical buffs!
Joe
Great story about the New York City draft riots.
Nranger7
I have been slogging through this book for nearly two years. That doesn't mean the book wasn't good. Part of the reason it took me so long was not having time to read for fun due to school. However, this book was also VERY tedious at times which did not help matters. It really didn't have to be this long. That is what prompts me to give 4 stars instead of 5.

Baker is a master at writing historical accounts effectively so the reader is completely drawn into the story. His descriptions about life d...more
Christina
Total pages:676 By: Kevin Baker

Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker takes place during the civil war. The setting of this story is in New York. The news has spread that a military draft is coming there way. As the military draft comes we follow the lives of three different women and their will to survive in such a hectic time. All three of their husbands are in the military and they all have children to protect and take care of so they are all worried about the safety of their husbands and the safety...more
Tom
A fictional account of the dreadful July 1863 draft riots in New York. The book tells the story of Ruth, whose family died in Ireland, and who is taken in by Johnny Dolan (Dangerous Johnny Dolan), not out of kindness, but because he needs a housekeeper and sex partner. Dolan brings Ruth to "Amerikay," where she meets Billy Dove a black freedman and falls in love with him. When Johnny Dolan kills an old man for his gold-headed cane, Ruth, Billy, and Johnny's sister Deidre have him shanghaied and...more
Ron Charles
Kevin Baker is quickly altering the landscape of American historical fiction. His first novel, Dreamland, burst into flames three years ago — a hypnotic portrayal of Coney Island designed to parallel the chaotic city of New York in 1911. His latest, Paradise Alley, stays on Manhattan, but it moves back to the Civil War, rescuing from national amnesia the worst riot in US history.

Baker's descriptions of New York City could be more pungent only with scratch 'n' sniff inserts. While Dreamland rose...more
Liz
I love me some good sagas, and this was interesting enough to read in its entirety on two plane rides, forgoing such enthralling film selections as "Valentine's Day" in the process. However, I'm not sure why so many top-level newspapers rated it a best book of the year. Perhaps it's the level of detail presented about low-income life in New York City leading up to and during the Civil War, which is certainly rich (and the NYC of the mid-19th century sounds much worse off than every city I've eve...more
Kate
I decided to reread Paradise Alley after reading Striver's Row earlier this summer; one of the main characters in Striver's Row is the grandson of major characters in Paradise Alley so I wanted to refresh my memory of the earlier book. I'm glad I did, because I now have a wonderful vision in my mind of Baker's panorama of human migration, and the many ways it shaped the city I know and love. The story of two great waves of European immigration (Irish in the 1840s and '50s; Jewish between the 188...more
Becca
This was a very enjoyable, compelling read. I love historical novels and this was so well-written that I felt almost like I was there watching the events, rather than reading about them. It was very hard to put the book down until I was finished. The character development is strong and the description of major historical events is thorough. Anyone familiar with NYC history will recognize certain names and places. The best part of this book is that Kevin Baker illustrates three different places:...more
Dick
I have had this book in my stack to read for many months. It belongs to my daughter Lisa.

Finally got to that part of the stack and read the book. Boy am I glad I did. Excellent read. Fiction, but historically based relative to the draft riots in NYC in 1863 - when President Lincoln announced a new draft to fight the war.

Lots of details regarding sites in NYC, pretty good development of a number of characters, too.

It was really a good read.

I learned that there were - indeed - some Irish that foug...more
Powerock
One of the members of the book club gave this to me, not realizing I had just finished reading Graves Are Walking. I was initially very impressed with the number of historically accurate references that were incorporated into the novel - people and events. About three fourths of the way through, the draft riots began and the reading became unpleasant. What you learn is that any mob of angry and underprivileged people are capable of horrendous acts -- whether black, Irish, Serbian, etc. The latte...more
Nicole
This is on my top five list of best books I've ever read. I will never forget Ruth and Billy Dove. So many pieces of this sometimes disturbing book stay with me. Baker is a phenomenal historical fiction writer or should I just say writer. I have read all three books in the New York trilogy and passed the along to others. They are gritty, honest, painful, heartbreaking, exciting, and educational. I wish he would write more.

After reading Rutherfurd's extremely ambitious historical fiction book "Ne...more
Kelly
Like most books I love, this story interweaves characters and perspectives to the days leading up to the draft riots prior to the civil war. At a time when, though they were free in the North, blacks were still despised as they were not allowed to fight in the Civil War but white men were being drafted around them. It also covers the Irish culture - also hated - as well as understanding the will to survive in the burgeoning New York culture of the mid 1800s. Characters you loathe, characters you...more
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Kevin Baker is the author of the New York, City of Fire trilogy: Dreamland, Paradise Alley, and Strivers Row. Most recently, he's been writing about politics for Harper's Magazine and the New York Observer.
More about Kevin Baker...
Dreamland Luna Park Strivers Row Sometimes You See It Coming: A Novel The Big Crowd

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