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Manhattan Transfer

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  4,370 ratings  ·  370 reviews
Considered by many to be John Dos Passos's greatest work, Manhattan Transfer is an "expressionistic picture of New York" (New York Times) in the 1920s that reveals the lives of wealthy power brokers and struggling immigrants alike. From Fourteenth Street to the Bowery, Delmonico's to the underbelly of the city waterfront, Dos Passos chronicles the lives of characters ...more
Paperback, 342 pages
Published September 2nd 2003 by Mariner Books (first published 1925)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  4,370 ratings  ·  370 reviews

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Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, american
Hopeless Migration

New York City was, perhaps still is, defined not so much geographically as spiritually by the unfulfilled aspirations of the people who migrate to it. And those migrants historically have come as much from the American hinterland as they have from across the ocean.

Manhattan Tranfer was a stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad in Newark, New Jersey before the tunnel under the Hudson connecting the mainline to Manhattan was completed. Once you arrived there, you had nowhere else to
Sep 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: maurice
I’m going to pull a GJ (Ginnie Jones) here and state:

”Manhattan Transfer is a kaleidoscopic portrait of New York City in the first two decades of the 20th century that follows the changing fortunes of more than a dozen characters as they strive to make sense out of the chaos of modern urban existence.”

Yeah, so that’s really what you need to know if you, you know, want the breakdown. Of course, I need to add my own two cents. ( Of course)

Reading this was an act of love. My husband has tried for
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dos-passos
It might be difficult to understand this novel if you've never lived in a large city. Dos Passos captures the chaos and disorientation of trying to survive in an urban battlefield, with all its violence, interruptions, temptations, anonymity, stimuli, and speed by writing in a still experimental modern style of cut-ups, fragments, and stream of consciousness. Manhattan Transfer's ferociously exciting to read, not only because it so accurately represents the physical sensations of modernity in ...more
Joseph Spuckler
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hustle and bustle of the Big City

New York a the start of the twentieth century. Several stories interwoven demonstrate the chaos of city life. Characters range from rich, former rich, and poor. A great mix reflecting the city at the time.
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Stela by: Fewlas
How can be explained the complicated and fascinating relationship between the city and the narrator in all major Modernist works with themes focused on urbanity? Think of James Joyce’s Dublin, dull and suffocating, with its Evelyns forever clued on the shore they dare not leave. Think of Henry Miller’s Paris, with its siren song that entangles the artists to better devour them. Think of Virginia Woolf’s London, collecting thoughts and fates in the glimpse of a park, the rush of a street, the ...more
Dec 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I had avoided Dos Passos novels for fear that they would be deadeningly political. Was I ever wrong? This book is wonderfully enjoyable. Told in impressionistic vignettes the book moves quickly as stars on the Manhattan stage rise and fall. Dos Passos indictment of the materialism and soulessness of turn of the century New York is told with neither sentiment nor heartlessness, but falls in a middle ground-dispassionate.

The time frames can be confusing. For instance, in the beginning the
Of two best TV shows of this century, Breaking Bad is a deep character study; The Wire is a deep city study. Breaking Bad is about people; The Wire is about systems, architecture, an entire structure from the top to the bottom. That's a tough trick to pull off. It's not very inviting; there are necessarily many characters, some of whom you don't get to spend much time with, and it's hard to get into a story that keeps shifting under you. (This is also why nonfiction history books are way more ...more
Now that's a whole other kind of fiction. Something to cherish and treasure. It reads like a movie but the good kind. It doesn't really have a plot instead it follows the lives of a few characters throughout the years in early 1900, through WW1 and right before the 1929 crash but you can feel it coming. Written in 1925, translated in French in 1928, it still is as interesting and vibrant as it was then. New York shines through all the pages. Dark and light, how the richs live and how the poors ...more
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing

The ferry-slip. A ferry, and a newborn baby. A young man comes to the metropolis and the story begins. It is a story of that metropolis: "The world's second metropolis." But it is really the latest in a line that extends backward in time to "Nineveh . . Athens . . . Rome . . . Constantinople . ." and others since.

John Dos Passos presents stories of some of the people who call this metropolis, Manhattan, home near the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel is about New Yorkers and their
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Bustling, jumpy and intense. For me, Manhattan Transfer was a different reading experience than I'm used to, but in a good way! Looking deep into New York life, you never get a sense that you're standing still, in the moment. There's always things going on around the single bit of narrative you're reading. Dos Passos' writing directly places you there, with fleeting looks at characters and detailed descriptions of the busy city. I, surprisingly, liked the complexity of this novel. It's not every ...more
Alun Williams
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now we are post credit-crunch this is probably a very good time to read this unusual American novel. At times it was hard to believe that Manhattan Transfer is describing the New York of 80+ years ago, so contemporary did it sometimes feel to me. The blurb on the back implies it is a novel about early 20's N.Y., but this is rather inaccurate. My grasp of history is not good enough to be precise, but the story certainly spans a period of over twenty years, and only reaches the 20s in the third of ...more
Nov 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those disillusioned by Gatsby
"There are lives to be lived if only you didn't care."

I have to stop comparing books and authors (or at least stop doing it as superficially as I do) but I can't help it with this 1925 expressionist montage of many lives clinging to Manhattan, sinking or swimming, giving up, going on, changing their names, caring for all the wrong things (apparently), battered by luck and buffeted by economics, war and desire. The bottom line is (I think) the randomness of our lives, and how little New York
090215: things this book made me think of: difficulty of representation of dialect (the book is easy to read but endlessly dialogue), of character sketches (there are so many, so varied), of plot represented by vignettes (like watching dancing routines in tenement windows from a passing elevated train), of trying to integrate, emulate, all the noise, confusion, of the chaotic modern city (in a determinedly modernist way), of how in our urban multiplicity it is not surprising some readers like ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's easy to see why this is considered a masterpiece. Dos Passos has painted a picture of New York City from the Gilded Age to the 20's. The actual plot wasn't that fascinating, but the writing style was exceptional. Using short prose-poems to begin each chapter, vignettes of people's lives, quotations from popular songs of the day, overheard conversations, newspaper headlines and more, we get a powerful portrait of the city.

It's a portrait that could be considered anti-establishment. I know
C Mac
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Hello Everybody

been meaning to try
Manhattan Transfer
for about 20 years

told in a hundred or so very short stories
that connect,
don't connect
inter connect
and re connect
don't even try
to think of this as one story
its hundreds of plots
each with a life of its own
come and go
some appear
never to be seen again
some appear to be seen fifty or more pages later

easy to lose track
where you are
but it's almost as if
it does not matter
open the book
to any page
find yourself
sucked in to a little
A literary landmark, even if I didn't especially enjoy it half as much as the fucking luminary USA Trilogy. Interlocking characters, storylines, vignettes, these are all things I generally like, but the thing doesn't cohere, and while there's definitely such a thing as delightful incoherence and ample room for the weird and unknowable (The Crying of Lot 49, Antonioni's Blow-Up, the most recent Kanye West album), Manhattan Transfer doesn't quite make it. Still, it's admirable as a modernist ...more
James Murphy
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Babel of voices. The reality of a whole made from a myriad of parts. Using the many stories of a wide assortment of characters to make a portrait of New York City in the early years of the 20th century, its device of character snapshots to tell the story reminded me most of Camilo Jose Cela's novel The Hive, which does the same thing for Madrid. Not as ambitious as the USA Trilogy, but it is considered by some to be Dos Passos's greatest work.
Michael Meeuwis
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Here's someone I wanted to read for ages and finally got around to--happy that I did. Dos Passos falls into the semi-classic lefty bind of making what he's ostensibly critiquing also seem awesome: his descriptions of the interiors of the wealthy make them seem amazing, even with the smart set throwing up in wastepaper baskets in the midst of these interiors. The novel sort of makes you spit out cliches in describing it, as it is in fact big, sprawling, Joycean, less about characters than about ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I borrowed this book from Mr. Small's book section in high school. It was so amazing and then inspired me to read all of john dos passos. Such beautiful poetic language about people in new york. Similar to when u are people watching and u see someone and think "goddam i wish I knew that person's story."
Jan 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: uiowa
Funny, bloated socialist pamphlet masquerading as experimental Modernist novel. Gain and drops characters at will, as New York does. A portrait of a city in the pangs of rebirth. Pretty images and a memorable ensemble (we will always love you, Emile!).
Dec 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that seem to improve with age - I've read it before, but it comes up as very modern each time. It's a very cinematic book, and illuminating on many levels. Dos Passos was a genius and his books bear this opinion out.
Robin Friedman
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Dos Passos' Novel Of New York City

"Manhattan Transfer" (1925) is a difficult, ambitious, modernistic novel set in New York City from the late nineteenth century through the Jazz Age of the early 1920s. The novel lacks a conventional plot. Instead, the stories of its many characters drift in and out through its pages. The lives of some characters figure through the course of the book; many others make only appearances. The chapters in this book consist of brief vignettes with describe an incident
Marc Gerstein
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Finally, I figured out what the title “Manhattan Transfer” means. For those who don’t know or didn’t catch it, this is what is not the NJ Transit railroad station known as “Secaucus Junction,” where countless NJ Transit riders on north-south lines get off and go upstairs to catch any one of a gazillion east-west trains running between other places in NJ and Manhattan’s Penn Station. Two characters heading from NY to Atlantic City are described as having changed trains there. I like the old name ...more
Oct 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
i just started this book, and while it kind of reads as a book where the writer is consciously trying to create the american equivalent of ulysses, it is an otherwise good read so far. it must have been hard to be an intelligent writer in the 20's and not find yourself overly influenced by joyce.


Actually, now that I'm further into the book, I see less and less relation to Ulysses. The multiple adjectives preceding their subject was a stylistic thing I saw again and again in
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Dos Passos' "modernism" sometimes feels like it consists of two main devices: first, all two word phrases that would ordinarily be printed as separate or hyphenated words are printed as one, creating a lot of Germanic constructions like "orangerinds", "handwinches", "manuresmelling", "leadentired" (those are all on the first page) - the other is, not delineating the start of a new section (and the change from one set of characters to another) by anything so obvious as a chapter division, instead ...more
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
This is the most readable "experimental" novel I've encountered, actually a "page-turner" with a variety of interesting plots, believable characters, and a vivid portrait of Manhattan. There are techniques more commonly used in film: events presented from several different viewpoints; similar events repeated and juxtaposed like the fires, ship dockings, or sunrises; characters whose social positions reverse (eerily like Proust, whose novels cover the same time period); and the quick passage ...more
Aug 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Manhattan Transfer is the first I've read from Dos Passos and after this, I'd really like to read more. This reminded me a lot of Virginia Woolf, in that there are extremely vivid snippets of modern urban life from a cross-section of individuals. Yet, Dos Passos is able to translate the experiences of individuals from all walks of life, whereas Woolf seems relegated to upper class Londoners. Even more impressive is that he's able to make the lives and internal thoughts of all of these people ...more
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
It is amazing how so many different voices are followed, threaded together through the narrative, to tell a story about what it was to be a person alive at that time and at that place as opposed to just the story of a single person or even any of the particular characters. There are so many hops and jumps it can be a bit difficult to remember who is who and when, especially since characters can change sometimes fairly drastically between their portions, but overall the effect is well handled. I ...more
May 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people with a lot of patience
This book was kind of disappointing and a few of the reviews for the book from other GoodReaders are correct. The book wants to be a sprawling epic of New York life, but so many people are dog-piled one after another it's maddening. I can handle characters intersecting but to introduce even newer characters within the last thirty pages is plain bad writing.
I also didn't think many of the characters were fleshed-out enough so their outcomes left me cold. It's hard to sympathize with people who
Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
it's a masterpiece. seriously. an important book. top shelf material. read this, please. dos passos deserves resurrection.
i don't know how he sustains such gripping imagery over the course of the novel. just look at his descriptions of ellie, in any situation, or his love notes to tall buildings. it's gorgeous.
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Bright Young Things: June 2016- Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos 49 33 Jun 28, 2016 10:01AM  

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John Roderigo Dos Passos was an American novelist and artist.

He received a first-class education at The Choate School, in Connecticut, in 1907, under the name John Roderigo Madison. Later, he traveled with his tutor on a tour through France, England, Italy, Greece and the Middle East to study classical art, architecture and literature.

In 1912 he attended Harvard University and, after graduating in
“The terrible thing about having New York go stale on you is that there's nowhere else. It's the top of the world.” 6 likes
“Do you know how long God took to destroy the Tower of Babel, folks? Seven minutes. Do you know how long the Lord God took to destroy Babylon and Nineveh? Seven minutes. There’s more wickedness in one block in New York City than there was in a square mile in Nineveh, and how long do you think the Lord God of Sabboath will take to destroy New York City and Brooklyn and the Bronx? Seven seconds. Seven Seconds.” 4 likes
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