Wham! Bam!! POW!!! shouts Thomas Dyja’s New Journalism-fueled prose, which, while it can’t touch Tom Wolfe’s torrential inventiveness, nevertheless grips the reader’s interest in this fast-paced history of New York City from near death to rebirth, and from mayors Abe Beame to Mike Bloomberg. Yet the story New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation tells is a con, a high-octane effort to persuade you that what happened in Gotham from 1978 until now was exactly the opposite of what really did happen—and that one of the most breathtaking, instructive, and well-documented social policy success stories in recent history occurred for reasons no one understands, on the watch of a nasty leader who deserves no credit for heroically resuscitating America’s metropolis.

Let’s give Dyja—whose last book was the award-winning profile The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream (2013)—the credit he’s due. When his writing is firing on all cylinders, it gives a smooth ride. Take this vignette of Mrs. Astor planning a dinner for president-elect Ronald Reagan:

Brooke Astor had quite the quandary. Tap tapping a pencil on her desk in the Money Room, she mulled the list. The Kissingers, of course. The Wristons and the Rohatyns. But some would have to go; sixty was such

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