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Posted March 16, 2011
A Diamond in the Rough
To begin with, I must congratulate Lawrence and Carol Kaplan on being bold enough to write on the complex pressure-cooker that is Rockaway. It's a subject that has received little or no previous academic treatment, and their study opens up the door to further critical engagement of the peninsula. Now to the review:
POSITIVES: It's refreshing to see an academic (read: non-memoir) style treatment of the Rockaways. The Kaplans' sourcing is thorough and their bibliography is almost as compelling as the work itself. Writing style is at once professional and personal, engaging the reader without losing command of the serious subject matter at hand.
NEGATIVES: The book's chronology is jumpy at best, getting mired in the 1950's and 1960's for several chapters before rushing through the 80's and 90's. This jumping makes certain portions feel repetitive: indeed, the same quotes are used to make the same points in several parts of the book. Furthermore, the authors fail to study questions of crime/drugs/gangs that make up a huge part of the peninsula's recent past; their treatment of education is cursory at best and comes too late to tie in with the rest of the work. Finally, the title--"Between Ocean and City"--introduces a fascinating idea: are Rockaway's woes a direct result of its constant limbo between urban center and resort town? Though the authors hint at the idea when they contrast Moses's stance on projects/Shorefront Parkway with the Chamber's more commercial approach, the theme is never fully elaborated, leaving readers wanting more.
TAKE-AWAY: Read it. Despite its organizational blemishes, this study dares to go where few others do: to the heart of Rockaway's problems. For a social history, it's a page turner. Worth every cent.
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