The story of New York’s second World’s Fair in the context of its tumultuous times.
Robert Moses, the city’s bullish master builder who was responsible for several of its colossal bridges, tunnels, parks and parkways and who had a hand in the construction of the first World’s Fair in 1939, maneuvered his way to power for the entire 1964-1965 version. His ultimate goal was to turn the fair’s grounds in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens into a rival for the jewel in Manhattan’s crown, Central Park. But Moses’ Eisenhower-era sensibility and the park’s Kennedy-esque theme of “peace through understanding” would collide with the reality of post-assassination politics and a cultural revolution in mores inspired by the underground and popular arts. Signs of troubles ahead included a threatened opening day “stall-in” on the highways leading to Flushing Meadows by local civil rights groups to protest Moses’ poor record in hiring minorities to build, staff and administer the fair and a disastrous convocation speech by President Lyndon Johnson that was interrupted repeatedly by catcalls from college students, many of whom would go on to form the Students for a Democratic Society. First-time author Tirella, a former reporter for the New York Times, adroitly switches focus from Moses and the fair to external events in the city, nation and world and back again, following several disparate threads—the civil rights dialectic between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., a New York City obscenity crusade that targeted Lenny Bruce and the gay bohemian subculture, the parallel paths of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the escalation of the Vietnam War—and never losing control of the narrative’s forward momentum. With a huge cast of characters that includes Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali and the pope, the World’s Fair provides an excellent perspective on the 1960s in America.
Top-notch popular history.