Books: They Built This City

Two bustling novels reconstruct the lives of the working men and women who made Gotham

You don't generally see a lot of work getting done in novels. Sure, fictional characters eat, drink, have sex, drive around, and boy do they talk, talk, talk, but when it comes to putting in an honest day's hard labor, suddenly, whoops! It's time for a scene change, or a flashback, or a few pages of deep internal monologue. That's what makes Elizabeth Gaffney's Metropolis (Random House; 461 pages) and Thomas Kelly's Empire Rising (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 390 pages) so unusual. They don't push work into the margins: Their characters actually get stuff done.

Metropolis is the story of a...

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