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Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a Cityby Neal Bascomb
Synopses & Reviews
The 1920s was a decade of great ambition and nonstop exuberance, and no place on earth reflected the spirit of the times more than New York City. The heart of America?s commercial, financial, and cultural life, New York provided the perfect backdrop for a contest that brought all three into play?the construction of three buildings that embodied the aspirations of a powerfully emerging nation: the Chrysler Building, the Manhattan Company Building, and the Empire State Building.
At the heart of this race was an intense rivalry?a contest between William Van Alen and Craig Severance, two prominent New York architects, to take New York City?s skyline to literally unprecedented heights. Former friends and partners, Van Alen and Severance had split over artistic and business differences, and then set out to best each other. Severance, backed by old money, drew up plans for the Manhattan Bank Building downtown, a commission that fit well with his own classic tastes. Van Alen, meanwhile, was a creative genius who envisioned a bolder, more contemporary skyscraper. He found his ideal, larger-than-life patron in Walter Chrysler. The ensuing battle commanded daily attention?from breaking ground at the sites to a floor-by-floor race to reach the tallest heights?and involved a fascinating historical cast of characters, including New York?s leading politicians at the time, Al Smith and Governor Franklin Roosevelt.
In Higher, Neal Bascomb brings to life the excitement of the city in the final, heady days before the Great Depression. He creates a tale as suspenseful as the race itself?and as dramatic as an ingenious last-minute flourish that would briefly give one building the title not only of tallest in New York, but tallest in the world, before another monument to America rather than one man, soared even higher.
"As a builder of perhaps more skyscrapers than anyone, I know a lot about them; yet Neal's book is very informative. This is a great and fascinating read for anyone interested in architecture, history, and New York City." Donald J. Trump
"Neal Bascomb's Higher is a fascinating account of the bitter race between two 1930's Manhattan architects to build the world's tallest building and thereby set in place a significant part of the fabulous skyline that inspires us to this day. Full of intrigue, insider's detail, and rich characterization, Higher is delicious history with a human face--a must-read primer on how THE city came to be." Les Standiford, author of The Last Train to Paradise.
"In Higher, Neal Bascomb has captured the very engaging human drama of architects and entrepreneurs scheming and competing to build the tallest skyscraper in New York--and in the world. Their legacies still stand proud, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings being among the greatest artistic and structural engineering achievements of all time." Henry Petroski, author of Engineers of Dreams
"Characters and buildings alike come vividly to life in Neal Bascomb's account of ambition, greed and technical ingenuity during the Roaring Twenties. An enthralling tale, brilliantly told, of the greatest architectural adventure of the twentieth century." Ross King, author of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and Brunelleschi's Dome
"The great race to build the world's tallest building still continues in Asia, but nowhere was the gamble undertaken with such intense competition as New York in the twenties and thirties. Out of it came iconic structures that define the city's profile and inspire generations of designers. Neal Bascomb's exploration of the struggle for supremacy among the Chrysler, Empire State, and 40 Wall Street buildings reveals how strong personalities, powerful economic forces, and shifting design aesthetics influenced those who sought to dominate the sky in New York. In his compelling narrative each building comes to a different result, but their interdependence is compellingly documented and convincingly presented. Anyone interested in the three tall buildings that make New York special with want this book." Hugh Hardy, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates LLP
The Roaring Twenties in New York was a time of exuberant ambition, free-flowing optimism, an explosion of artistic expression in the age of Prohibition. New York was the city that embodied the spirit and strength of a newly powerful America.
In 1924, in the vibrant heart of Manhattan, a fierce rivalry was born. Two architects, William Van Alen and Craig Severance (former friends and successful partners, but now bitter adversaries), set out to imprint their individual marks on the greatest canvas in the world--the rapidly evolving skyline of New York City. Each man desired to build the citys tallest building, or ‘skyscraper. Each would stop at nothing to outdo his rival.
Van Alen was a creative genius who envisioned a bold, contemporary building that would move beyond the tired architecture of the previous century. By a stroke of good fortune he found a larger-than-life patron in automobile magnate Walter Chrysler, and they set out to build the legendary Chrysler building. Severance, by comparison, was a brilliant businessman, and he tapped his circle of downtown, old-money investors to begin construction on the Manhattan Company Building at 40 Wall Street.
From ground-breaking to bricklaying, Van Alen and Severance fought a cunning duel of wills. Each man was forced to revamp his architectural design in an attempt to push higher, to overcome his rival in mid-construction, as the structures rose, floor by floor, in record time. Yet just as the battle was underway, a third party entered the arena and announced plans to build an even larger building. This project would be overseen by one of Chryslers principal rivals--a representative of the General Motors group--and the building ultimately became known as The Empire State Building.
Infused with narrative thrills and perfectly rendered historical and engineering detail, Higher brings to life a sensational episode in American history. Author Neal Bascomb interweaves characters such as Al Smith and Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, leading up to an astonishing climax that illustrates one of the most ingenious (and secret) architectural achievements of all time.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -342).
Table of Contents
A hunch, then a demand — The architect-artist — A proud and soaring thing — The organization man — Make the land pay — An American invention — The poet in overalls — To scrape the sky — Equivalent to war — A three-way race — Oxygen to the fire — Call it a "Vertex" — A monument to the future — The prize of the race — The butterfly and its cocoon — Crash — Pharaoh against Pharaoh — Aladdin's Genii and paper fights — The chase into the sky — Excelsior — Spirit--not steel and stone.
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