LITTLE FLOWER: The Life and Times of Fiorello La Guardia by Lawrence Elliott

LITTLE FLOWER: The Life and Times of Fiorello La Guardia

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La Guardia ""the impassioned advocate, the relentless gadfly, the eternal showman""--in a lightweight, YA-type presentation that might nonetheless turn readers on to the brass-tacks books about New York's fiery congressman and mayor (notably, Arthur Mann's pair) from which it's derived and which it does, creditably, quote. Some of what Elliott does is better un-done--like his presumptions about how young Fiorello felt growing up the son of an Italian-born bandmaster in Prescott, Ariz. Much of what he does--the disproportionate space devoted to La Guardia's early life (as a minor Balkan consular official, as an immigration-service translator and lawyer), and to picturesque and heroicizing anecdotes throughout--follows the YA pattern. His characterization consists mostly of clichÉ labels, his writing runs to tortured metaphors (""He was called the Little Flower but he fought like a nettled wildcat""). But there was drama as well as color in La Guardia's life: the WW I flying stint, the elections amazingly won and dismayingly lost, the frustrated hopes for higher, post-mayoral office. So Elliott's narrative, if trite, doesn't flag. On one important point, history is with him: La Guardia's twelve-year House stint ""probably surpasses his three terms as mayor of New York in lasting achievement."" Mainly, Elliott ticks off successive LaG. embroilments (anti-Muscle Shoals, -""Nordic"" supremacy, -Prohibition, anti-""bread trust"" and ""meat-packing barons""); but the narrative acquires some drive for the 30 or so pages covering 1932-33 when La Guardia licks Hoover's national sales tax, puts over the Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction Act, loses his congressional seat, then rebounds to wrest the mayoralty nomination from hostile (!) Fusion forces, and, in a fierce campaign, wins his long-sought prize. The account of his mayoralty, thereafter, is cursory and slight. For readers of the least sophistication, the popular biography of choice is William Manners' savvy, entertaining Patience and Fortitude (1976). On Hizzoner, there's also August Heckscher's When La Guardia Was Mayor (1978). But the La Guardia story bears retelling and re-positioning.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1983
Publisher: Morrow