Archive for December, 2011

Boardwalk Empire and Northside by Nelson Johnson

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

A Reader’s Review by Ann Dow

I am reading Boardwalk Empire, and the  book is a far cry from the HBO series.  It is a fascinating study of how Atlantic City came about.  Of course, this is of interest to me because I grew up there, but it should interest anyone who wants to know more about how places got to be what they are, especially resorts because most of them started out as tracts of sand until someone with foresight developed them and made them into what they are.  This would apply to Long Island, Florida, Newport, Bar Harbor and nearly any seaside enclave you might name.  Even the fact that some of those developers were shady characters is part of the common equation, and that’s what makes this book worth reading.  It’s not a soap opera like the TV show, but it does hold my attention and may indeed hold yours.

I also finished and enjoyed The Northside by the same author, Nelson Johnson (no relation to the legendary Nucky Johnson of Atlantic City fame) aka Nucky Thompson in the HBO series.  This one is about the African-American residents of the section of Atlantic City known as the Northside.  These people, many descendants of slaves, were the ones who comprised the main workforce of the industry that put AC on the tourist map.  They worked tirelessly for little reward and were treated little better than their ancestors, but they built their own society in their allotted part of town.  Many of them became professional people, and their children became doctors, lawyers, school teachers, and in several cases, celebrities.

The common denominator of these two books is that with the right raw materials, something good can be made from very little.  It takes determination and effort, but eventually the raw clay becomes a solid object that rises out of its surroundings and in time becomes the model for future sculptors to emulate.  In the case of Boardwalk Empire, this clay can deteriorate over time and unnurtured, can return to dust.  This happens when too much emphasis is placed on the place and not enough on the people who inhabit it.  Atlantic City is a classic example of such decline.  The Northside, which produced solid citizens, is still there even though many of those citizens have moved to other places which were not available to their forebears.  They continue to thrive and to make a difference and to influence their children to strive to do likewise.