City of Promise: A Novel of New York's Gilded Age

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Beverly Swerling’s critically acclaimed epic saga continues as New York emerges from the Civil War into the Gilded Age—a city marked by soaring expansion and teeming with unbridled ambition and dazzling glamour.

It is 1864. The South’s surrender is inevitable, and Manhattan is at the heart of the recovering nation’s surge to prosperity. On its bustling streets crowds hustle from place to place amid a maelstrom of carriages and horse-drawn trolleys. Vanderbilt’s new Grand Central...

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City of Promise: A Novel of New York's Gilded Age

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Overview

Beverly Swerling’s critically acclaimed epic saga continues as New York emerges from the Civil War into the Gilded Age—a city marked by soaring expansion and teeming with unbridled ambition and dazzling glamour.

It is 1864. The South’s surrender is inevitable, and Manhattan is at the heart of the recovering nation’s surge to prosperity. On its bustling streets crowds hustle from place to place amid a maelstrom of carriages and horse-drawn trolleys. Vanderbilt’s new Grand Central Depot and the glittering Ladies’ Mile shine as beacons of the city’s burgeoning wealth.

Joshua Turner returns home from the War with only one leg, but his ambition intact, and sees opportunity in the exponential growth of vital city workers—the managers and clerks who churn New York’s economic life. This new middle class must live in dreary “family residences,” where everyone eats in a shared dining room and no woman can have a key to her own front door. Manhattan, Joshua realizes, has limited land but unlimited air. He aspires to build the city’s first apartment houses for everyman, a daring vision that will make him New York's first true real estate titan but will also attract the dangerous attention of a shadowy figure from Josh’s days in a notorious Confederate prison.

Meanwhile, the irresistible and clever Mollie Brannigan, raised by her extraordinary Auntie Eileen in perhaps the toniest bordello in town, is resigned at age twenty-two to spinsterhood . . . till Joshua finds her at Macy’s, the city’s largest emporium, and takes her coaching in Central Park, while explaining why the millionaire mansions that line their route are not how he sees the future. In Joshua’s love Mollie finds a world of possibilities she had not dared to dream, but it is her aunt’s intervention that makes them real. How ironic, then, that a secret Eileen thought left behind in Ireland will force Mollie to employ all her wits to protect not just her chance at happiness but her life.

This is New York at a time of unyielding progress and technological wonder, a bustling metropolis coming into its own, as its skyline is transformed by the proliferation of ever-taller buildings and the Brooklyn Bridge slowly rises out of the East River. Vividly imagined and awash in period detail and the unforgettable characters that only Beverly Swerling can conjure, City of Promise delivers a historical adventure of suspense and intrigue, daring plot twists and bitter rivalries, and the captivating love story of two people struggling to forge their own destiny.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Swerling's latest epic reveals the extremes of New York's Gilded Age. When one-legged Joshua Turner returns home after the Civil War, New York is still a city of horse-drawn vehicles and boarding houses. With plans swirling for the Brooklyn Bridge and an elevated train, Josh realizes that the city lacks housing for working class families, and limited land prevents sprawling housing projects. He develops a scheme to build vertical housing, which is initially funded with the dowry received from his wife Mollie's Aunt Eileen. A fortunate encounter with Ebenezer Tickle, a dwarf familiar with the new Bessemer process of making steel, enables Josh to successfully build profitable multi-storied apartment buildings. Unfortunately, New York is a city of graft and greed and Josh's success is coveted by others, especially Trenton Clifford, who wants Josh's land holdings to destroy Josh, and because the land's value will escalate when a proposed subway system is built. Clifford employs murder, extortion, and even kidnapping to gain his ends. Although the pace often lags in this sprawling novel, Swerling (City of God: A Novel of Passion and Wonder in Old New York) vividly captures the greed, corruption, violence, and banking failures that accompanied vast new advances in transportation, communication, and lighting during this era. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“[Swerling] nimbly weaves fact-based history and fast-paced fiction into a vivid tableau of 1870s Manhattan" —Beth Johnson, Entertainment Weekly

“Run, do not walk, to purchase a copy of Beverly Swerling’s compulsively readable City of Promise.” —Mark Peikert, New York Press

“With a fast-paced, complex plot showcasing opulent Fifth Avenue mansions, Wall Street pandemonium, deals both fair and underhand, and the rising influence of the ethnic gangs, Swerling expertly interlaces the stories of a Gilded Age couple and their magnificent city. Compulsive reading that informs and entertains.” —Sarah Johnson, Booklist

“Clearly, if Swerling had been my history teacher, I would have paid closer attention. . . . These private and national escapades play out in a great swirl of plots and counter plots . . . riotously entertaining." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"The title city is New York. The age is gilded. The Civil War is about to end, and the author is tackling love, life, adventure, big business and the dazzling glamour and appalling squalor of the city that never sleeps. Even way back in the 1860s." —Anne Bendheim, Asbury Park Press (New Jersey)

“Swerling vividly captures the greed, corruption, violence, and banking failures that accompanied vast new advances in transportation, communication, and lighting during this era." Publishers Weekly

"A whopping saga . . . teeming with bizarre medicine, slave uprisings, executions, thriving brothels, and occasional cannibalistic Indians. . . . A near perfect historical novel." —Mark Rozzo, Los Angeles Times, on City of Dreams

"The history of New York City, as told through the fiction of Beverly Swerling, just keeps getting better." —Terry Mapes, Mansfield News Journal (Ohio)

“The author brings the time alive with true characters . . . conflict, tension, romance, the upper and lower levels of society and a satisfying finale. Highly recommended.” The Historical Novels Review, on City of Glory

Kirkus Reviews

Swerling (City of Dreams, 2001, etc.) continues her series of "city of" novels celebrating the history of New York.

This installment finds an unhappy young man named Joshua Turner freshly returned to Manhattan from service in the Civil War, during which he's lost a leg along the way and now sports a peg in its place. (Smoking gun warning: The peg comes into its own at a critical point in the story.) Joshua isn't one to be inconvenienced by such trifles: He's single-minded in the same way that his mogul successor Donald Trump is abrasive, though, admittedly, he's much less entertaining than The Donald. Alas, the war follows him home, first in the person of a pal's brother-in-law, a rebel spy caught in the act of a spectacular arson, and over whom Josh expresses regrets that he wasn't on hand to save the day. Writes said secessionist, "My dear brother-in-law and friend...Much as I hope for the success of our mission to burn New York to the ground, I also pray God that you and yours will somehow survive whatever turmoil we unleash." That "we" is an operative word, for Johnny Reb isn't alone in wanting to see bad things happen to Gotham, and Joshua is caught up in an intrigue that unfolds above and below the streets of the city over the years to come. Fortunately, he doesn't have to fight the battle alone; he's since won the heart of a former brothel inmate. The novel is competent enough, though the dialogue is a touch flat, the scenes sometimes too contrived and the yokels too yokely: "He's always walking around the city drawing things," says one. "Illustrations he calls 'em." Right.

Swerling doesn't promise more than she delivers, but this is still a rather ordinary novel. For a stronger thriller set in the same time and place, see Frederick Busch'sThe Night Inspector.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439136942
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 8/9/2011
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Beverly Swerling is a writer, consultant, and amateur historian. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Rollicking Fun and Intrigue on the Streets of Old New York

    Beverly Swerling's acclaimed New York City saga spans the time from the Civil War to the Gilded Age of the 1880s. The stories of the Turner and Devrey families continue. The book brims over with the city's explosive expansion, gripping characters and a plot that highlights 19th century social mores. The book cover features fireworks over the newly erected Brooklyn Bridge, but the real sparklers are within its pages. We have followed Beverly Swerling's characters and their descendants through two centuries since the New York City saga began in City of Dreams. In this latest installment, Josh and Mollie Turner negotiate the ups and downs of their marriage almost as well as their dream to build "French flats," leased one-floor apartments stacked into a high-rise well north of the city. We sense a collision course will ensue with the project but seeing how it unfolds is revelatory. Along the way we bump into arsonists, brothel owners, real estate tycoons, blackmailers, kidnappers and spies. The real star is New York itself. Swerling's ability to cram period detail into an absorbing plot makes you feel you're walking the city streets along with the characters. Grand mansions spread northward, subways threaten to run underground, and apartment buildings stretch skyward. Ride a steam-driven Otis elevator. Attend the opening of the Metropolitan Opera. Stay on top of events with the New York Times, an upscale newspaper. Learn about Edison's improvements to the Bell telephone, steel-girded apartment buildings and a fashion revelation called the maternity dress. Swerling expertly creates fascinating characters that inform us of history. Her knowledge of New York City's history and geography illuminates her subject.City of Promise is so absorbing that when the last page is turned, the reader is unaware that he had a history lesson to top that of a college classroom. No worries if you haven't read the other books in the series, as the last one stands on its own. How refreshing to see authors take a different tack than in previous books. Swerling has upped her game in City of Promise. Instead of relying on surgical procedures and salacious scenes, she turns her beloved Big Apple into a hero. Intrigue and entertainment are its close friends to the last page. In this reviewer's mind, it is the best book of the series. Simon and Schuster graciously provided the review copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and entirely those of the reviewer. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2013

    Great Series

    I started with the first book City of Dreams and got hooked. An interesting historical fiction of New York City. If you like history and love New York City. Start with the first book of this series and read the second and third (City of God, City of Glory) and then read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    Love the Series

    All the books in the series are excellent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Recommended for for readers of historical fiction!

    I throughly enjoyed the whole series, and hope she follows up City of Promise. There is more New York history yet to be explored.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    Great book

    loved the story, the characters, the twists and turns and the backdrop of the greatest city in the world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2014

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