Despite occasionally clumsy exposition, Higher goes a long way toward doing justice to its fascinating subject.

HIGHER

A HISTORIC RACE TO THE SKY AND THE MAKING OF A CITY

Bascomb debuts with a lively account of how three great New York City skyscrapers were built at the end of the Roaring Twenties.

The author begins with portraits of two architects, William Van Alen and Craig Severence, former partners who became bitter rivals. Van Alen was the partnership’s creative heart, trained in Paris and imbued with the modernist spirit. Severence was the consummate businessman, constantly networking in search of the next big commission. Breaking up in 1924, just as the skyscraper was becoming the symbol of preeminence in business and the economy seemed to be on an endless upward spiral, the erstwhile friends by 1929 were executing rival commissions to build the tallest building in the world. Severence’s backers were Old Money, with conservative tastes and a building plot at 40 Wall Street, at the center of the financial district. Van Alen’s patron was self-made automobile tycoon Walter Chrysler, willing to spend whatever it took to erect his personal monument at 42nd and Lexington. The two architects openly sought the “world's highest” crown, each altering their designs several times in order to top the other. In the end, Chrysler and Van Alen won. But neither had taken into account the plans of John J. Raskob, who headed a corporation with defeated presidential candidate Al Smith as its spokesman. One of Chrysler’s fiercest rivals, Raskob acquired the Fifth Avenue site of the Waldorf Astoria for a skyscraper destined to become the epitome of its kind: the Empire State Building, completed in 1931. Bascomb puts all three projects vividly in context, giving broad overviews of the times as well as detailed portraits of the men who designed, financed, and constructed the three buildings even as the crash of 1929 took all the sweetness out of their triumphs.

Despite occasionally clumsy exposition, Higher goes a long way toward doing justice to its fascinating subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50660-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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