1939 by David Gelernter


The Lost World of the Fair
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 A readable but peculiar blend of fact and fiction aiming to give a visitors'-eye view of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Gelernter (Computer Science/Yale Univ.; The Muse in the Machine, not reviewed) argues that in exhibits like ``Futurama'' and ``Democracity'' the 1939 fair powerfully expressed a popular vision of what the future would be: a world in which each family owned its own house in a leafy town outside the city, to which Dad commuted for work by car over an enormous highway, while Mom stayed home in a house filled with labor-saving machinery. We lack the 1930s' faith in the future, he claims, because ``in 1970 or so we entered the American utopia'' and found it not quite to our liking. Gelernter hammers home this debatable point with a heavy hand and much repetition, but his theorizing can mostly be ignored in favor of his atmospheric descriptions of the fair itself--from the AT&T building, in which visitors could participate in a demonstration of long-distance phone calling (most exotic in 1939), to Westinghouse's Hall of Electric Living, complete with an automatic dishwasher. The author's generally perceptive analysis of how the fair expressed the 1930s worldview is interspersed with excerpts from a lengthy fictional diary entry recording a day spent at the fair by a young Jewish woman and her fiancÇ. This narrative gives a nice sense of how the fair must have struck contemporary visitors, although even readers who have missed the tiny Author's Note admitting that ``the characters are made up'' will soon realize that the clichÇd drama of Hortense Laura Glassman and Mark Handler is invented. Nothing very new here about a much-covered fair, and the author views the 1930s through glasses so rose-colored, he's practically blind to the decade's harsh realities. But good fun for pop culture aficionados. (author tour)

Pub Date: June 7th, 1995
ISBN: 0-02-874002-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995


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