A valedictory account of a life spent in large-building construction in New York City.
In addition to his duties as chairman of Kreisler Borg Florman General Construction Company, Florman (The Aftermath: A Novel of Survival, 2001, etc.) has authored six books and more than 250 articles. Here he combines memoir with an account of the hazards, complexities and joys of his trade. The resulting synthesis is somewhat unwieldy, although Florman’s style is accessible and wry. The author writes that despite the litany of grief associated with the trade, ranging from violent mobsters to risks on the job site, “I look back on this career with relish…because of the challenges met, the rousing adventures encountered.” It seemed an improbable occupation for a bookish Jewish boy in Depression-era New York, but wartime service in the Seabees opened up a fascinating industrial world to him: “Such [broad] experience can’t be bought in engineering school.” After the war, he worked his way up in the trade, first as an estimator, then a project manager; feeling frustrated, he joined a general contracting start-up in 1956, and soon bought in as a partner. KBF went on to have both success and good fortune, moving from school construction in the 1950s into large-scale urban and government projects. Despite Florman’s keen discussions of the complex minutiae of construction firms’ actual operation, his approach is mostly sentimental, with a lot of focus on the characters he’s known (especially at his own firm). The book is organized to highlight certain themes relevant to the industry’s development through the 20th century. Readers may wish the author had dug deeper into his juiciest subtopics, including the legendary corruption of building inspectors, the true degree of Mafia penetration in the industry, the still-contested role of women and the violent struggles for affirmative action on job sites.
Succeeds in demystifying the world of large-scale urban contracting, but will probably have more emotional resonance for older readers, in and out of the field.