We have one of these in Siam,"" mused King Prajadhipok to Al Smith. ""A white elephant."" In fact the Empire State building is to New York what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris--as well as being a great engineering triumph and exemplar of the architectural dictum of the 1920's and '30's: ""form is function."" Unlike the building, James' biography of it is not nearly so streamlined. He reviews the history of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Fourth Street from the days when it was the site of John Thomson's farm. By the early 1800's the property had already been purchased by the Asters and eventually the Waldorf-Astoria, mecca for New York's beau monde, opened its doors to ""The 400."" The construction of the Empire State Building began right after the Great Crash of 1929 and before it was completed the skyscraper had taken the lives of fourteen workmen (unlike the Eiffel Tower which was constructed with not a single casualty). Today it is still New York's biggest, most visited tourist attraction, drawing some 5000 to 6000 persons daily even if the World Trade Center has outstretched it by eight stories. Alas, James' commemoration is no more of an objet d'art than the chrome and plastic ashtrays in the souvenir shop where this will probably also be sold.