Synopses & Reviews
Everything about the conception and creation of Rockefeller Center was outsized and wildly improbable. Launched in the teeth of the worst depression in American history, the most ambitious construction project since the Pyramids was the unintended result of a philanthropic gesture gone awry. But when it was finished, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s accidental adventure redefined the very nature of New York City. In this hugely appealing book, noted journalist Daniel Okrent draws on a depth of original research and a broad grasp of subjects money, art, politics, business, social history to tell the story of how Rockefeller Center rose in the heart of Manhattan to become the playground/laboratory/headquarters for all the world's affairs.
Okrent's lavish cast of singular characters is a Who's Who of a glamorous age. Gertrude Vanderbilt, Otto Kahn, Henry Luce, Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe, even Benito Mussolini all play crucial, and often unexpected, roles in this saga. But at the heart of the story are four remarkable individuals: John D. Rockefeller Jr., the timid son of the world's richest man, whose greatest accomplishment turns out to be something he had never intended; his son Nelson, who launched his own imperial career by seizing control of this vast enterprise; the rude, vain, but dazzlingly creative real-estate genius John R. Todd; and Raymond Hood, a scamp, a provocateur, a drinker and the greatest skyscraper architect America has ever known.
Brilliantly weaving together multiple narrative lines and a wealth of historic detail, Great Fortune is a vast tapestry of New York in its first flush of world-dominating wealth and power.
"Okrent delves into the history and pulls out an array of intriguing men, most of them little known, who have greater bragging rights to Rockefeller Center than the man whose name it bears." Adam Cohen, New York Times
"Great Fortune explains in a carefully researched, deft mosaic of anecdotes and personality sketches how Junior and his associates managed to build a city within a city, disdained by critics early on but eventually revered by them and the public at large." Grace Lichtenstein, The Washington Post
"That the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition began during construction in 1931 as a "modest balsam" decorated by site workers with cranberries, "garlands of paper and... a few tin cans" is just one of thousands of details... that make this magisterial account, itself seven years in the making, fascinating and immediate." Publishers Weekly
"A suitably grand, and suitably complex, history of the skyscraper that remains a symbol of all that is wondrous about New York City." Kirkus Reviews
"This excellent, well-crafted book is dense with fascinating characters and history." Elaine Machleder, Library Journal
In this hugely appealing book, noted journalist Okrent draws on a depth of original research and a grasp of subjects to tell the story of how Rockefeller Center rose to become the playground/laboratory/headquarters for all the world's affairs.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -480) and index.
About the Author
Daniel Okrent is a prizewinning journalist, a frequent television commentator, and the author of several highly acclaimed books. For many years, he was a senior editorial executive at Time Inc. and a contributor to all of the company's major magazines.
Table of Contents
A Note to the Readerxiii
prologue: May 21, 1928, and September 30, 1939 1
one: The Heart of This Great City 5
two: A Commonplace Person 33
three: These Properties Will Be Greatly Increased in Value 43
four: I Chose the Latter Course 57
five: Architecture Never Lies 71
six: Tears of Joy to a Small Business Man 82
seven: I Like Having a Lot of People Against Me 99
eight: A Genius 111
nine: A Hundred Lawsuits 124
ten: Let Owen Young Do It 133
eleven: Who Designed Rockefeller Center? 145
twelve: Wondering Where Im Going to Get the Money 164
thirteen: Our Architects Deserve to Remain in Chains 176
fourteen: Desperate for Business 187
fifteen: Give Em Something Better 203
sixteen: Ruthlessness Was Just Another Word for Good Business 246
seventeen: All the Finns in Helsingfors 269
eighteen: What Do You Paint, When You Paint on a Wall? 287
nineteen: I Was Not Interested in Sitting and Listening 321
twenty: Visitors Give Him Dollars 343
twenty-one: The Snake Changing Its Skin 373
twenty-two: The Kingdom of the World 393
twenty-three: The Demand Is Almost Unbelievable 407
epilogue: 19482003 421
Illustration Credits 485