A dexterous work of urban and architectural history, and a passionate tribute to the grand buildings of old New York.



A suitably grand, and suitably complex, history of the skyscraper that remains a symbol of all that is wondrous about New York City.

It being New York, there was nothing straightforward about the planning, design, or construction of what was once called Radio City. As former Time executive Daniel Okrent writes, the project began as an opera house, shifted locations and key backers and eventually purposes, and fell into the hands of the illustrious and magnificently moneyed Rockefeller family, some of whose members had, in the 1920s, lately shifted their public stance from avaricious acquirers of fortune to servants of the public good. After tough negotiations with the president and trustees of Columbia University (who would realize a fortune from their lease of the immensely valuable real estate, if decades later), the Rockefellers and their architects broadened their notion of the project to make it even grander; it would become, Okrent writes, not a destination in the city but, “organically, the city itself—a city where the privately maintained sidewalks were spotless, where the ramp-relieved cross streets were free of delivery trucks” and other impediments. Yet, for all the deep pockets of the builders, the construction fell on every imaginable difficulty, from labor difficulties to the onset of the Depression. Peopling his narrative with a vast array of characters—among them, sometimes in cameo, Benito Mussolini, Diego Rivera (whose assistant had to implore construction workers not to pee on the master’s murals), V.I. Lenin, Henry Luce, and, of course, John D. Rockefeller, then the wealthiest man in the world, and his son Nelson, whose oversight turned out to be of critical importance—Okrent takes readers on an improbably wild ride that, in the end, will leave them wondering how the vaulting skyscraper ever got built, but glad that it did.

A dexterous work of urban and architectural history, and a passionate tribute to the grand buildings of old New York.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03169-0

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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