Picks and Pans Review: The Gay Metropolis 1940-1996
Adversity has its advantages," Charles Kaiser writes in his latest book, and what other city but New York could offer the kind of character-building obstacles which the author contends helped define gay culture at the end of the 20th century?
Kaiser's thesis is simple: From the clandestine affairs of gay GIs in Central Park during World War II ("New York in wartime was the sexiest city in the world") to the outrageous promiscuity of the disco era to the AIDS crisis, the city has served as the principal arena in which contemporary gay culture and the fight for gay civil rights have evolved.
Supporting such a thesis seems a daunting task, yet Kaiser, a former editor at Newsweek, rises to the occasion with a lively and eminently readable sociological history. Animated by first-person accounts, articles and books from each decade, Metropolis successfully delivers the feeling that we were there. Its one weakness? The narrative too often drifts away to San Francisco or Europe, leaving a reader to wonder what's going on in Metropolis. (Houghton Mifflin, $27)