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American Passage: The History Of Ellis Island [Hardcover]

Vincent J Cannato
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 1 2009

"By bringing us the inspiring and sometimes unsettling tales of Ellis Island, Vincent Cannato’s American Passage helps us understand who we are as a nation.”
— Walter Isaacson

“Never before has Ellis Island been written about with such scholarly care and historical wisdom. Highly recommended!"
—Douglas Brinkley, bestselling author of The Wilderness Warrior

The remarkable saga of America’s landmark port of entry, from immigration post to deportation center to mythical icon.

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“Mr. Cannato’s writing is vivid and accessible, and his approach is admirably even-handed.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Historian Vincent Cannato appears to have overlooked nothing in telling the tale of the historic island, now a national monument. . . . Cannato is not only a meticulous researcher and historian, he’s also a lively storyteller. A rare combination.” (USA Today)

“Cannato does a masterful job of weaving together a slew of singular immigrant stories with the larger issues that surrounded newcomers. He gives us the politics, the health scares and epidemics, the crowding, the corruption and the public policy.” (The New York Post)

“Cannato navigates the crosscurrents of immigration since the 1700s, illustrating his tale generously with odd facts and highly readable stories.” (Associated Press)

“The story of America is one of immigration. By bringing us the inspiring and sometimes unsettling tales of Ellis Island, Vincent Cannato’s American Passage helps us understand who we are as a nation.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein)

“Reading Vincent Cannato’s American Passage was an amazing journey into our nation’s immigrant past. Never before has Ellis Island been written about with such scholarly care and historical wisdom. Highly recommended!” (Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge)

“Immigration has long been a critical slice of the American narrative, and here, in American Passage, Vincent Cannato tells its story with great brio. From landing point to national Monument, from immigrants to interpreters, we see the veritable Babel of Ellis Island play out across the years.” (Jay Winik, author of The Great Upheaval and April 1865)

“To his great credit Cannato does not pretend to answer our tough questions about immigration, nor to find a ‘usable past’ in the history of Ellis Island. He just tells one heck of a story that oozes with relevance.” (Walter A. McDougall, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Throes of Democracy)

“Although Ellis Island is about immigrants from far-away places, it is in fact as American as Thanksgiving and apple pie. This amazing story is recounted beautifully in Vincent Cannato’s well-written and evocative book, which will bring pleasure and profit to readers.” (Kenneth T. Jackson, editor in chief, Encyclopedia of New York City)

“Cannato resists the temptation to setimentalize Ellis Island. He understands that, now as then, immigration is an issue that leaves Americans uncomfortable and contentious, even as it continues to bring new blood and energy into the country.” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post)

From the Back Cover

For most of New York's early history, Ellis Island had been an obscure little island that barely held itself above high tide. Today the small island stands alongside Plymouth Rock in our nation's founding mythology as the place where many of our ancestors first touched American soil. Ellis Island's heyday—from 1892 to 1924—coincided with one of the greatest mass movements of individuals the world has ever seen, with some twelve million immigrants inspected at its gates. In American Passage, Vincent J. Cannato masterfully illuminates the story of Ellis Island from the days when it hosted pirate hangings witnessed by thousands of New Yorkers in the nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth century when massive migrations sparked fierce debate and hopeful new immigrants often encountered corruption, harsh conditions, and political scheming.

American Passage captures a time and a place unparalleled in American immigration and history, and articulates the dramatic and bittersweet accounts of the immigrants, officials, interpreters, and social reformers who all play an important role in Ellis Island's chronicle. Cannato traces the politics, prejudices, and ideologies that surrounded the great immigration debate, to the shift from immigration to detention of aliens during World War II and the Cold War, all the way to the rebirth of the island as a national monument. Long after Ellis Island ceased to be the nation's preeminent immigrant inspection station, the debates that once swirled around it are still relevant to Americans a century later.

In this sweeping, often heart-wrenching epic, Cannato reveals that the history of Ellis Island is ultimately the story of what it means to be an American.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Immigration Policy Examined Sept. 10 2009
In this book, Vincent J. Cannato explores Ellis Island as the America's famous entry-point during the age of immigration at the turn of the twentieth century. Immigration is crucial to the development of America as a nation, yet the history of public policy and the politics of immigration are a study in contradictions. If the declaration of independence's basic creed that all men are created equal, then why should Ellis Island exist in the first place, why would it be necessary to create "a better sieve" or implement immigration quotas based on race?

I really did enjoy reading this book, but I did find that most of the text was more informational rather than Cannato answering his historical question. The best section of the book I found was actually at the end when Cannato analyzes the myth and memory of Ellis Island in the contemporary context. The questions he raises about the concerns both African Americans and Native Americans in that America's "immigration story" has all but written them out of.

The book is very well-researched, based on many primary and secondary sources, I just found that it contained a lot of superfluous information. The book could probably have been cut in half with more interpretation rather than explanation. Overall, this is a decent survey into Ellis Island and America's immigration policy in the twentieth century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great History July 10 2009
By David M. Sherman - Published on
Professor Cannato has created a remarkable work of history. It is beautifully written and superbly researched. Cannato reshapes your views on Ellis Island without preaching or taking a one-sided view of history. The reader is never overwhelemd yet the depth of research is remarkable; stories of individuals (their triumphs and tragedies) adds to the cogent research.I enjoyed the chapter structure; wonderful, grabber introductions, fascianting, detailed body of work, and conclusions that help the reader wrap up the main points. Informative, well-written, and a myth buster....This is the way history ought to be written. Bravo.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of our ancestors June 29 2009
By Frank J. Konopka - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like many in this country I am the descendant of folks who crossed the ocean in steerage, and then made it safely through Ellis Island, which is the subject of this excellent book. When I read of all the requirements that were put onto those hoping to enter this country, I am extremely grateful that I am here today and not planting potatoes somewhere in Poland.

The book goes through the entire history of Ellis Island, from its first incarnation as a place to hang criminals, through its various stages of immigration reception, through the many changes and renovations made to it, and finally to the tourist attraction (and national treasure) that it is today.

I had occasion to take my wife, two of my chilren, and my two granddaughters to Ellis Island a few years ago, and I was in awe of the place, and couldn't believe what my forebearers had to go through so that I could be there observing. Using the computers there, we were able to find my father's father, and my wife's mother's father, and learned how and when they arrived on our shores.

The book says that names weren't changed by officials there, but I tend to disagree. My grandfather's name was Appolinarious (sp?), but it was changed to Paul at Ellis Island. It's easier to say, because in Polish his name is pronounced much differently than it is written above.

We should all take some time out to see this place, and then stop to admire and thank our ancestors for having the courage to come to a new land and raise their families.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting view of what people went through to become American's Aug. 20 2009
By R. C Sheehy - Published on
Vincent Cannato does a wonderful job of demystifying Ellis Island and in American Passage does a wonderful job of showing how Ellis Island was a metaphor for the battle regarding what constituted America's immigration policy and what resulted in the restrictive policies of the post WW I era.

Cannato shows that the vast number of immigrants of the Ellis Island era, while not from the preferred parts of Europe like earlier immigrants, were by and large hardworking individuals who sought to have their own little piece of the American dream. The great struggle regarding which group should be admitted and which group should not is mapped out in epic detail. He also does a wonderful job at demonstrating the internal political struggles that beset Ellis Island during its peak years of operation.

Cannato also shows that not all the immigrants who came into the country during this period were of ideal motives. Where the book tends to drag is that it draws too much from leaders and senators and does not offer a balanced view by showing successful immigrants. However that does not stop this from being a very interesting story and an interesting read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not your high school history book Aug. 9 2009
By Rosemary Aronson - Published on
Vincent Cannato recants the history of Ellis island with captivating passages and intropective reflection. I originally bought the book because I met the author briefly at a local wine tasting event. In a reading lull, I started the book and immediately was transformed to the 1800's and the difficulties and politics that surrounds "coming to America". This is not your high school history book. The personal stories of the immigrants plight to escape oppression and/or to find happiness and a better life in America is intergrated with the politics of the era that eerily echos those of the present day.
A totally interesting read that surprised me with it's pathos,accuracy and insight. A must read if you have ancestors that came through Ellis Island or are just interested in reading a very down to earth accounting on how the immigration process evolved.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American Passage is Essential Reading April 20 2010
By James E. Thayer - Published on
Ellis Island's story is as vast and diverse as the multitude of immigrants who passed through the island's gates; but Dr. Vincent J. Cannato, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, is a scholar more than equal to the task of writing an epic history. In the pages of American Passage, our nation's most iconic immigration-processing facility bustles anew with activity; and the voices of the myriad thousands who crossed the oceans in search of better lives in the United States again echoes throughout the island's long-silent corridors. The poor, the wealthy, the oppressed--indeed all humanity--are represented in Cannato's story, which combines superb research, on-target analysis, and exquisite prose within a compelling narrative that proves impossible to put down. Immigration is as important to American history as the "shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington; and the most visible symbol of that truth, Ellis Island, now has a scholarly counterpart in Cannato's American Passage. Appealing to both scholar and layperson alike, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island will undoubtedly assume its proper place as the definitive interpretation in Ellis Island historiography, and will certainly be one of the landmark studies in immigration scholarship.
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