In January 2014, Canadian writer Craig Taylor relocated to New York City with a mission: He would interview New Yorkers about themselves and their city, similar to the task he undertook to create his 2012 book, Londoners. Over six years, Taylor interviewed more than 180 people and recorded 400 hours of conversations. The final product is New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time, which contains 75 oral histories about America’s most populous metropolis.
Taylor groups the book by themes, such as wealth, stress and “hustle.” An array of only-in-New-York careers are represented, such as a security guard at the Statue of Liberty and an electrician for the Empire State Building. Nearly all the isolated stories are interesting; there are only a few duds.
The emotional heart of New Yorkers can be found in the testimonies of people who directly experienced the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic. Reading firsthand accounts of these extraordinary events is poignant and resonant. Likewise, the New Yorkers who share their experiences with homelessness and racism reveal as much about these societal scourges as the best reportage could.
All of that said, New York City is home to roughly 8.5 million people, so readers will inevitably emerge with the feeling that plenty of stories were left out. For example, even with the number of women included in the book, the overall collection leans toward traditionally masculine occupations. Why not include a manicurist, an OB-GYN, a burlesque dancer or a personal shopper from Bergdorf Goodman? And how could a book about New York City include no public school teachers or librarians?
To this end, New Yorkers is more of a collection of Taylor’s own experiences in New York City than a comprehensive representation. Nevertheless, it’s a delightful book for anyone with an interest in New York—and a reminder that everyone has a story, if we’re willing to listen.