Today on Gotham, editor Nick Juravich interviews Brian L. Tochterman about his new book, The Dying City: Postwar New York and the Ideology of Fear, about the competing narratives that shaped the city after World War II, in the age of mass suburbanization and deindustrialization.
For readers who haven’t encountered the book yet, how did you come to the topic? As a cultural historian, was there a particular book or film that touched off your inquiry?
The Dying City combines a host of research and personal interests. Its scholarly origins go back to two seminar courses at the University of Minnesota, one on the “urban crisis” and another on cold war culture, taught by Professors Kevin P. Murphy and Elaine Tyler May respectively. I arrived intending to study early twentieth-century urban development, but the course material really got me excited about the post-World War II period. May’s Homeward Bound made passing mention of pulp-writer Mickey Spillane as did K.A. Cuordileone’s Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War. Cuordileone’s way of analyzing political tracts, mass-market texts, and popular criticism was particularly significant as I turned toward cultural history. As a doctoral student, it was probably the most influential monograph I read outside of the postwar metropolitan historiography. Beyond those brief citations, I found that Spillane was understudied and from there I dove into his work. To listen or to read the entire interview.