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Paradise Alley

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4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,129 Ratings  ·  126 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' ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 676 pages
Published September 30th 2002 by HarperCollins (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Melki
Apr 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It started when the new Draft Law was announced. All able-bodied men, ages twenty to forty-five, married or single, are now eligible to be drafted into Mr. Lincoln's army, and shipped south to the war. There to be fed on wormy hardtack, and saltpork, and butchered by incompetent generals while their families try to subsist on begging and government relief. Unless---and, ah, there's the rub!---they have three hundred dollars to buy themselves a substitute. An easy enough thing for any man of mean ...more
Jody
Jan 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carol Storm
Basically this Civil War novel is GANGS OF NEW YORK, told at a very slow pace with way, way more sentimentality. Have to give it 2 stars just for historical research, but beyond that, strictly meh.

You have to feel sorry for this author. If you're Kevin Baker, how do you write a novel about the Draft Riots without making the Irish immigrants look like the bad guys? This was the worst race riot in American history, and it lasted for over a week. More than that, after the riots were over the Irish
...more
Ron Charles
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carl R.
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jean
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stopped-reading
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
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
Kathy
Jul 03, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did not like this book very much. I kept reading it because it was interesting from a historical perspective, but I found it hard to really relate to any of the characters and the book seemed repetitive. Lots and lots of descriptions of the horrible things that people do to each other. And then some.
Kate
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Elizabeth
May 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
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
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sandie
Sep 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Donna
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a tough read. It wasn't bad or boring I think it was just tedious because there was so much detail. If you liked the movie "Gangs of New York" & it left you w/ more questions then this would be a great book for you. It is based on historical facts & has woven the emotional element into a history lesson. Each chapter reveals the main characters in more depth each time they are highlighted. You gather their perspectives & have a private view into their thoughts & worlds. I ...more
Kathy
Nov 04, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was okay: started slow, got much more exciting, and ended leaving some storylines dangling, although it summarized the period philisophically. The historical detail was captivating and the characters were complex; as the tale moved along, I changed my views about two of the characters (Robinson- went from liking him to hating him and Dangerous Johnny Dolan - went from hating him to pity). Sometimes the story seemed a little wordy; it was much better when there was some action, or when ...more
Kathy
Oct 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
Paradise Alley is a novel by Kevin Baker. The book is quite long. However, it does not mean that it is not readable. It is interesting. The characters include Ruth, Johnny Dolan, Billy Dove, Deirdre, Maddy and Robinson. It about the American civil war during the reign of Abraham Lincoln. The effects it had on both races, that is, blacks and whites. Through the eyes of the characters we are transported back to the seventeenth century and all we can see is the brutality of the war.
Anne Bryant
May 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Joshua
Apr 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, nyc, race
This book wasn't as good as the others in Baker's City of Fire series, I thought, because it dealt more with salacious violence than with the city itself. All the gory details and suspenseful action bored me, while the historical scene-setting that made Dreamland and Striver's Row enjoyable seemed slapped on in the form of cheap nostalgia in this one.
Rosie Tighe
This book is brutal. I really enjoyed both Dreamland and Strivers Row, but this one centers on the Draft Riots in NYC, and consists of expertly written descriptions of extreme violence.

Baker is a terrific writer, but I couldn't wait for this one to be over.
Jason
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
Ann
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Joe
Jan 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story about the New York City draft riots.
Molly
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mary Henderson
Jan 02, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition


Didn't finish the book.
Carol
Mar 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a very engaging historical novel. My interest was captured from the first pages. The characters were well developed.
Joyce
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
long, depressing, but very well written...a good story for historical buffs!
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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.
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