Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America . Donald L. Miller. Simon and Schuster. May 2014. 784 pp. ISBN#: 9781476745640.
New York City’s fame lies in its dynamic people, places and events that have earned it the fame and fascination of the world. Donald Miller’s tome, however, concentrates on the evolution of that immense growth since the time just preceding the Jazz Age to the present. Great stories involve vibrant people who usually have a multifaceted presence that most people find intriguing and perhaps praiseworthy or even notorious.
Our story opens with a long complex, multilayered presentation of New York City’s Mayor Jimmy Walker. A man who secretly longed to be in the exciting world of acting in New York City’s theater, circumstances led him instead into governance. He was a man who pushed the development of huge projects, particularly the city’s railroad system and real estate development, while often neglecting to realize that his attention to financial overspending was lacking. At the same time his personal life was the fodder of tabloids with partying and an extramarital affair. The world either loved or hated Jimmy Walker; but either way, he remains an outstanding figure in New York City’s history.
The rise and fall of Tammany Hall, the political system that controlled elections and their aftermath in every single segment of NY business, government and society, is a fascinating read. It was not only focused on local politics but also had an immense influence on national elections. What began as a group of powerful players that offered protection, jobs, health care, education and so much more to the little-known citizen became a huge organization that bred inescapable corruption.
The remainder of the text explores diverse areas of New York City’s fame: its highbrow growth in real estate and fashion along Fifth Avenue and other memorable places within the city, its skyscraper and architectural development, its fragrance and beauty industries through the genius of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden respectively, its phenomenal talented and unique music industry beginning with the famed Jazz music evolving from downtown Harlem, its stupendous creation of mammoth transportation entities such as Grand Central Station terminal and the Holland Tunnel, and so much more.
Supreme City is a fascinating read as Donald Miller has infused each segment with personal interest and factually accurate facts that makes this a highly readable and intriguing study. He has obviously intensely researched his subject and yet never allows it to become dry or boring. This is a text to not only slowly relish but to keep on one’s coffee table, not as a dust-gathering knickknack but as a book that will draw further interest and reading from all who stop to momentarily and briefly pursue any one of its page – it’s that great and wonderful a book and definitely a classic study of New York City!
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