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Publisher's Summary

An epic, riveting history of New York City on the edge of disaster - and an anatomy of the austerity politics that continue to shape the world today.

When the news broke in 1975 that New York City was on the brink of fiscal collapse, few believed it was possible. How could the country's largest metropolis fail? How could the capital of the financial world go bankrupt? Yet the city was indeed billions of dollars in the red, with no way to pay back its debts. Bankers and politicians alike seized upon the situation as evidence that social liberalism, which New York famously exemplified, was unworkable. The city had to slash services, freeze wages, and fire thousands of workers, they insisted, or financial apocalypse would ensue.

In this vivid account, historian Kim Phillips-Fein tells the remarkable story of the crisis that engulfed the city. With unions and ordinary citizens refusing to accept retrenchment, the budget crunch became a struggle over the soul of New York, pitting fundamentally opposing visions of the city against each other. Drawing on never-before-used archival sources and interviews with key players in the crisis, Fear City shows how the brush with bankruptcy permanently transformed New York - and reshaped ideas about government across America.

©2017 Kim Phillips-Fein (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Phillips-Fein deftly recounts the clash between government entities and vested interests as New York struggled to cope with slashed social service budgets...Sobering, smart reading with many pointed lessons for activists." ( Kirkus)

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    4 out of 5 stars

well-researched but too detailed

the author ended very thorough research down to excruciating meaningless and mundane detail. This book will answer every question you have about the crisis but unfortunately also a lot of questions that you didn't have :-)

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Raleigh
  • greensboro, NC, United States
  • 03-31-18

municipal bankruptcy


? where you living in the NYC area in the mid - 1970's
? do you have an interest in municipal bankruptcy
? do you have an interest in New York's political history

if so Ms. Phillips-Fein's book might be of interest to you
for decades, NYC lived and governed on borrowed money
mayors Wagner, Lindsay and Beam pushed the city debt to 10 billion

lenders eventually found other customers and left NYC out in the cold
Beam's threat of municipal bankruptcy brought the unions to the table
Felix Rohatyn's MAC got the union pension funds to buy city debt

free CUNY tuition, unlimited welfare and "the great society" were gone
in it's place was a city focused on finance, law & order and entertainment
as i walk NYC streets today, my urban memories of 1974 - 1978 seem far away