A major biography of ""the Little Flower,"" by the author of Today's Immigrants: Their Stories (1981) and The Golden Door (1976). Though the quintessential New Yorker, La Guardia was raised in the rough and ready West, first in South Dakota, then in Arizona. Kessner sheds much light on this early phase of his subject's life, seeing in it the roots of his temperament and his success. As he followed his immigrant musician father, Achille, around the frontier, La Guardia ultimately became a ""product of the interplay between the free, open environment of the West that he came to love, the overbearing influence of his father, and a family tradition of continental culture."" It was in the somewhat gypsy-ish life of his childhood and the overdemanding nature of his father that La Guardia ""learned early in life to substitute willfulness for trust and to make his mark with a conspicuous truculence""--a forcefulness that culminated in his 12-year mayoralty of New York. Our age would have doted heavily on a mayor who read comics to the city's kids during a newspaper strike, personally sledgehammered the city's confiscated slot machines, and donned a fireman's raincoat to direct firefighters at a dramatic fire. But Kessner digs below the image to show a shirt-sleeve politician who helped to rid the city of corruption and usher in the liberal era. Among the accomplishments detailed here: breaking the hold of boss politics, instituting a nonpolitical civil service, replacing an antiquated city charter, and recasting the infrastructure throughout the city, while bringing to New York its two international airports (one named after him) and orchestrating a World's Fair. A ""life and times"" bio on a grand scale that should appeal to readers who enjoyed Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker (1974).