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Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America    by Donald Miller order for
Supreme City
by Donald Miller
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Many of us are tired of hearing about how wonderful and how important New York City is. So why would I recommend a very long book that chronicles an important period in the Big Apple's past? The answer is quite simply because Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald Miller is more than just a history about a single city. This tome looks at how a group of outsiders transformed this eastern metropolis into a world class city that set the tone for the rest of the United States.

Focusing on the period between the end of World War I and the 1929 Wall Street Crash and resulting Great Depression, Miller describes the transformation that altered New York and began to create the iconic skyline that we think of today.

The story is largely told by focusing on the personalities - from politicians to businessmen, architects, and celebrities - who made the city their home and helped alter its image in one way or another.

The first two sections of the book deal with politics, mayor Jimmy Walker, crime and the prohibition. The author writes, 'The city never built more ambitiously or aggressively than it did during Walker's administration. Manhattan was turned into a gigantic construction site, with steel girders climbing into the clouds, rivet guns hammering away, and mud-caked laborers digging up streets and moving entire buildings to make way for more underground trains.'

Although this work began before the war broke out, it reached its full momentum in the late 1920s. Park Ave replaced the old New York Central rail yard. The magnificent homes along 5th Ave were demolished and swank stores for the wealthy replaced them. The area around Grand Central Station was transformed into skyscrapers, hotels and office towers.

Part Three of the book, The Making of Modern Manhattan delves into these changes before Part Four, Bringing in the Future, looks at some of the movers and shakers of the time like David Sarnoff and William Paley, who battled for communications dominancy in both the city and the nation.

Other notables mentioned include sports legends like fighters Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, baseball slugger Babe Ruth, and architect Raymond Mathewson Hood, developer A.E. Lefcourt, jazz musician Duke Ellington, and impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. and Jazz Age publisher Horace Liveright.

Well illustrated, this volume can be read from cover to cover (excluding notes and the bibliography there are 582 pages of actual text) or you can break it up and read the sections that interest you most in piecemeal fashion. Either way, this is a fascinating book about a time when New York underwent a major makeover.

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