Is there anything more irritating than that predictable sigh, so often heard from the trendy anti-gentrification crowd, that New York was so much better, so much more authentic, when one couldn’t walk through Central Park without fear of sexual molestation; when Times Square was an outdoor brothel, controlled by illiterate gangsters who kept out both horrid corporations and those even more horrid (and uncool) tourists from Omaha?
The only argument worth making in defense the old New York is that cities in decline often produce great books and films about decline: Saul Bellow’s 1970 classic Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Tom Wolfe’s brilliant Bonfire of the Vanities, Al Pacino in Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon.
While no one is better than Wolfe at exposing the foul political climate of 1980s New York (if you want to understand the baffling rise of Rev. Al Sharpton, familiarize yourself with his fictional counterpart, Rev. Reginald Bacon), the smartest evocation of Manhattan in decline—and one of the best books of the Reagan-era—is Martin Amis’s novel Money, a mordent, frequently depressing, and always riotously funny vision of celebrity culture and two cities (London and New York) approaching civilizational collapse.
Michael C. Moynihan is the managing editor for Vice magazine and a contributing editor to Reason.