The Later Swing Age in New York

project: Traitors, 1943

A little home-front spy trouble.

The many older books can be located in second-hand book stores, reference libraries via ILL (Inter-Library Loan), or by book finders, like that at Barnes and Noble or Alibris or Amazon. Of course, you know to read magazines and newspapers of the time to pick up the period flavour and concerns.


Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front, 1941-1945 by Richard Lingeman, though The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1944 was a close runner-up.

1) history outline
Flappers, Bootleggers, "Typhoid Mary" & The Bomb: An Anecdotal History of the United States from 1923-1945
by Barrington Boardman; 1988; Harper & Row, NY. This is it for this period, like we keep using the one outline history from the Fall of the Rome to the end of the Renaissance. If you find a good one, it's your first book every time you need to check when you want to write in. This one is cool because it isn't a political history, more a headlines of pop culture. Otherwise, go read Wikipedia on the era.

2) everyday life, general
Everyday Life Through the Ages
; Reader's Digest editors; 1992; Reader's Digest Assoc, London; nonfactual in many places, making rest suspect, but it's a start if you have no clue. About as reliable as Wikipedia. I also use This Fabulous Century v. V, 1940-1950; the Editors of Time-Life Books, 1969; Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA. Only half of it applies, and it's really only good for the pix because every statement has to be checked elsewhere. Less reliable than Wikipedia.

3) General transportation
Nock, O .S., editor; Encyclopedia of Railroads (Galahad Books, NY, 1977) is worldwide and encyclopedic, but it does cover railroads in the war.

4) General costume
Movies, and the Costumers Manifesto. Also, since one of my characters is black, I've checked out YouTube - African American makeup demos: Harlem Renaissance 1930s makeup for dark skin

5) Specific transportation
The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles
. This is miserable to find a particular year in, as they are sorted by brand, but you can look up what was available in any brand.

6) Etiquette
Emily Post, Etiquette, 1943. She had wartime additions for how gas rationing affects visiting friends in the country &c.

7) Spectator entertainments, whether theatre or sports, a general overview.
Read the papers and the WPA Guide. There's also movie magazines at the Internet Archive.

8) Self-entertainments, like card games, lawn games, and children's games.
Foster's Complete Hoyle
(1922) by Robert Frederick Foster was the closest I could ge you in freebies. I had to find out what the Thains played in the evenings, bridge or acey-deucy.

9) Food and dining, including what sort of public dining was available.
Of course the WPA Guide, but also DeGouy, Louis; Patricia M. Kelly, ed; Luncheonette: Ice-Cream, Beverage, and Sandwich Recipes from the Golden Age of the Soda Fountain; 1989, Crown Publishers, NY; portions of Soda Fountain and Luncheonette Drinks and Recipes; J. O. Dahl, 1940 reminds us that people grabbed lunch without franchise fast food.

10) Cookbook
The American Woman's Cook Book
by Ruth Berolzheimer, 1943, Consolidated Book Publishers, Chicago, IL. The section on dumplings is excellent. The supplement in the back is on cooking within the limitations of rationing, which was added for this edition.

11) Marriage and family
Eugenics and Sex Harmony. The Sexes, Their Relations and Problems, &c
by Herman H. Rubin, MD; 1933, NY, Elliot Publishing Company.

12) Specific costume, for your demi-decade
In this period, you had better have your militaria down pat. There's a lot of men and not a few women in uniform. Jack Cassin-Scott; plates by Angus McBride; Women at War 1939-45; 1980; Osprey Publishing Ltd., London. Includes British, American, German, Nazis, 1939-45, but fewest of Americans. For costume, avoid most books: they often lump "the Forties" together, though there were two fashion periods, the shoulder pads, high hem, late-Thirties-like fashions of the first half, and the purposely revolutionary/reactionary, corsetted, narrow-shouldered, long, full-skirted New Look from Dior after the War. Best to read back issues of the fashion magazines of the period. I confess, I usually dressed my female lead out of my collection of vintage garments or from movies. Near History has these advantages.

13) A book on the religion(s) dominant in the time and place, as practiced then, not the current version.

14) A fat history book of the area and century.
Frank H. Simonds, LittD & Brooks Emeny, PhD The Great Powers in World Politics; International Relations and Economic Nationalism 1935-1939 American Book Co., NY. Since the author didn't know what was to come or what was to be found out, he provides one actual period American view of the world. Post-War books all suffer from 20/20 hindsight. For what was happening in the early 1940s, World Almanac and Flappers, &c.

15) A history of the most influential country at the time (country A).
The Third Reich, natch.

16) A history of its rival (country B).

17) A biography of the leader of country A.
Heiden, Konrad, Der Fuehrer 1944 Houghton-Mifflin, Boston. Excellent and scary.

18) A biography of the leader of country B.

19) A history of the country you are setting in, general.
Since I'm in Country B, I'll use this to list The World Almanac and Book of Facts, the year after (1944 for 1943, because they report day to day on the prior year; mid-forties is the period I actually found at thrift shops, and you cannot believe how valuable they are for research).

20) A history of the country you are setting in, that era.
Again, a substitute, of an unusual facet of life that's necessary to the book's plot: Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer (Scarborough House, Lanham MD, 1979, rev. 1991). I was told by a critiquer of this MS that there were almost no Nazi PWs, and anyway they were all held in England, therefore a novel based on them in America was silly. In fact, most of them were held in the US, because we had the spare food, the space, and the safe use of them as agricultural labour. Some did get loose: in fact, they had their own Great Escape to Mexico.

21) A biography of the leader of the country of your setting.
Another sub: Carlson, John Roy Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America Now Plotting to Destroy the United States; 1943; E P Dutton & Co, NY.

22) An everyday life for the commoner of your time and place.
Casdorph, Paul D. Let the Good Times Roll, Life at Home in America During World War II; 1989; Paragon House, NY.

23) An everyday life for the upper classes of your time and place.
The WPA Guide to New York City: The Federal Writers' Project Guide to 1930s New York (American Guide)

24) An everyday life for the middle class of your time and place.
Lingeman, Richard R. Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front, 1941-1945 1970 Putnam's NY

25) An everyday life for the women of your time and place

26) An auto/biography of someone like your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people like that.

27) A book on houses and furnishings of the period.

28) A book about courting, romance, and sex of the time.
Costello, John; Virtue Under Fire: How World War II Changed Our Social & Sexual Attitudes; 1987; Fromm International, NY

29) A source of period names.
The Social Security site, but remember: you need to choose the decade or year, not by when the story is, but by when the character was born. A high school girl and her mother, let alone grandmother, can have very different kinds of names. By all means, latch onto ones near the top of popularity that aren't in use now: they make your characters seem less of today and very much of then. Also, these are only personal names, and characters need family names. For specific ethnic groups, Holly Ingraham, People's Names: A Cross-Cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of over 40,000 Personal and Familial Names in over 100 Cultures, 1997, McFarland.

30) Period Medicine.
Very important, considering I open with one of the characters very beat up. American Red Cross; American Red Cross First Aid Text-Book; The Blakiston Company, Philedelphia, 1933, rev. 1940; 256 pg, index; How times (and practices!) have changed! Features traction of broken limbs, abhorred today, but more practical in a world where it might be a day's travel to a doctor, or even a phone.

31) Climate
The WPA Guide and period newspapers.

 Period Maps:

They actually cut back on making maps, so that foreign spies couldn't get around easily. The late 1930s ones will give you the streets and major highways, but not the location of the aircraft factories, which is kind of the idea. If it really, really matters, check local newspapers.

John Keegan, editor; The Times Atlas of the Second World War; 1989; Times Books.

J. W. Clement Co., Matthews-Northrup Division; The Matthews-Northrup New International Atlas & Illustrated Gazetteer, 1937, 1938, Blue Ribbon Books, NY. In 2012, this is running $10-15, is all.

Get diagrams of the subways and elevateds at Historical Maps of Subways and Els, 1880-1976.

32) The WPA Guide to New Jersey. 1939

33) Espionage: Singer, Kurt Spies and Traitors of World War II 1945 Prentice-Hall, NY.

34) Aircraft: Yenne, Bill The World's Worst Aircraft, 1990 Dorset Press, Marboro Books Corp, NY, because the Brewster Buffalo has a scene in this.

35) Aircraft: Smith, J. R. & Antony L. Kay; German Aircraft of the Second World War; 1972; The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co. of America, Baltimore, MD

36) Romance: Morris, Hugh; The Art of Kissing, 1936, 1977; Doubleday Dolphin, NY reprint, which is kind of dopey and sophmoric.

37) Espionage: Fermi, Laura; Illustrious Immigrants: The Intellectual Migration from Europe, 1930-1941; University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2nd ed. 1971; A precise but emminently readable story of the efforts of American academics to rescue their fellows from the Nazi regime, giving valuable background on what their lives had been like in Europe, and what they faced in the New World. The bulk is given over to following the continuing success of these figures (and the occasional failure) and the effect they had on American arts and sciences by being here.

38) Military: The Military Service Publishing Company; The Officer's Guide; Harrisburg, PN, 9th ed. 1943; If you want to present an Army officer and you haven't been one, or weren't in the right branch of service, this is great. It covers the National Guard as well, with organization of the Army, the command structure, what you wear, with whom you serve, your first station, your last will and testament, ad infinitum. Mercifully written before gobbledegook, in a clear and simple format, which is neither flowery nor dull. The 1941 8th ed. misses all the 1942 changes, and so you need to stick to one very close to your year. Actually, if you are an Army officer, you still need this to lose all the late 20th C. changes. Frequently, the bookstores do not stock any old versions, but is better than for this. Best of all may be eBay, or a general Google search.

39) Military: Shea, Nancy; The Army Wife, What She Ought to Know About the Customs of the Service and the Management of an Army Household; Harper and Brothers, NY, 1941 revised edition; Put together to meet the needs of women who suddenly found their husands in the army, on the bones of a book for girls marrying cadets or other men already in, Shea tells what to expect in almost any situation.

40) Champagne Living: Alpern, Andrew; New York's Fabulous Luxury Apartments with Original Floor Plans from the Dakota, River House, Olympic Tower and Other Great Buildings; 1975, McGraw-Hill, NY, as Apartments for the Affluent: A Historical Survey of Buildings in New York; Dover, NY; 1987.

41) Everyday Life: Goodrum, Charles & Helen Dalrymple; Advertising in America: The First 200 Years; 1990; Harry N. Abrams, Inc. NY

42) Cussing: Because someone might do it seriously. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr, Oxford University Press, 2013.

43) Medical: Since then, I would add The Modern Home Physician, A New Encyclopedia of Medical Knowledge, Illustrated with Two Hundred and Thirty-Two Photographs and Nearly Seven Hundred Drawings Made Expressly for This Work, edited by Victor Robinson (Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1938). This is even better for correcting my ideas of period medicine, as in, due to the lack of antibiotics, lead and mercury are still in common use, external and internal, and that dual personality is considered a form of epilepsy (not that I needed it, but it's part of what I need to learn).

44) Current Events: This is something the characters would read and discuss: Alexander Procofieff de Seversky, Maj., Victory through Air Power. Seversky had his ideas right about air cap being important, but you can't hold territory without putting an army of occupation down. His concepts of planes able to bomb halfway across the world could be said to prefigure the B52, but his idea that fighter pilots could stay in their seats for a trip between North America and Australia and back ignores human limitations of inaction.

45) Background: Dönhoff, Countess, Marion, trans by Jean Steinberg; Before the Storm: Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia; 1988, 1990; Alfred A. Knopf, NY. You have to remember that your characters are not created in the year you use them. The Countess here represents the generation of my second lead, born during the First World War.

46) Dress: Henry, Mark; The US Navy in World War II; Osprey Elite, 2002; 64 pages; Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. While being a uniform book, it also strikes on two areas often completely slighted: women and blacks in the Navy, and the appearance of the Coast Guard, for the war transferred from Dept. of Transportation to Dept. of the Navy. gives a light overview of operations and jobs.

47) Recent History: Frank Capra made, for the government, a series of films called Why We Fight. This was shown to service inductees, to explain to them how and why America wound up in a world war. It's the general period view, maybe a bit better educated than the man in the street.

48) Everyday Life: Crowther, Bruce & Mike Pinfold; The Big Band Years, 1988 Facts on File, NY.

49) Everyday Life: Simon, George T., compiler. The Big Bands Songbook, 1975 Barnes & Noble, NY.

50) Music & Radio: What's on the radio? Check Live365 for Cladrite Radio. Their logo says music of the 20's, 30's & 40's, but there's only an occasional batch of post-War stuff. "Rat Patrol Radio" on Live 365 may actually suit this better. Tons of the music of the time is available, and if you don't check dates you can wind up thinking your characters are listening to the wrong stuff. This is The Swing Age, not yet The Cool Jazz Age, yet some oldies from The Hot Jazz Age will be heard. In fact, music is so defining in this century I wound up naming the non-zero-end eras based on it. I recommend Glenn Miller as a basis, as he only broke big right before the war, and died during it. In fact, one of the best is Glenn Miller Live!, a 4CD set from Reader's Digest. I also used a CD of V-disc recordings of him leading the Army Air Force Band.

If you need something else for your particular story around this time, maybe Historical Novelists Center can help with their Swing Age pages.

copyright Holly Ingraham




More Near History Lists 

1926 New York

1931 New York

1934 New York

1937+ Los Angeles

1937+ Europe

1943 New York

1940+ Europe


 1940+ London

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