An award-winning historian surveys the astonishing cast of characters who helped turn Manhattan into the world capital of commerce, communication and entertainment.
Except for occasional geographic detours to Harlem for the Cotton Club or the Bronx for Yankee Stadium, and a couple of temporal departures that highlight, for example, the completion of Grand Central Terminal or the opening of the George Washington Bridge, Miller (History/Lafayette Coll.; Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, 2006, etc.) confines his story to Midtown Manhattan and the 1920s. Even with these self-imposed boundaries, the narrative bursts with a dizzying succession of tales about the politicos, impresarios, merchants, sportsmen, performers, gangsters and hustlers who accounted for an unprecedented burst of creativity and achievement. Readers with even a passing acquaintance with Jazz Age New York will recognize many of Miller’s characters—Mayor Jimmy Walker, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Duke Ellington, Jack Dempsey, Walter Chrysler, David Sarnoff, Florenz Ziegfeld—but how many know the story of Othmar Ammann, perhaps history’s greatest designer of steel bridges? Or bootlegger Owney Madden, model for his friend George Raft’s silver-screen gangster? Or Lois Long, hard-living fashion editor for Harold Ross’ New Yorker? Or boxing promoter Tex Rickard, first to recognize that each fight required an intriguing narrative to build box office sales? Or the charismatic Horace Liveright, who thought of each book he published as an event? How the speak-easies hummed and how Prohibition democratized drinking, how cosmetics queens (and mortal enemies) Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden blazed new paths for women, how Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue became fashion meccas, how “mansions in the sky” blossomed all over the city—all this and much more cram Miller’s sprightly narrative about a city so convinced of its centrality as to employ an “official greeter.”
A scholarly enough social history but one with plenty of sex appeal.