Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City
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 city’s 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 Chrysler’s 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.
Beautifully written and a fascinating story
By readsalot2 - October 27, 2003
I came across this book over the weekend and picked it up for my dad's birthday. I started reading through it on the subway on the way home from the bookstore and could not put it down! I should admit that I don't normally read these kinds of books, but Bascomb does an amazing job of drawing you in with colorful descriptions of the times and characters involved in this truly incredible story of the skyscraper races during the 1920s. Yes, there was literally a race to be the tallest building in the world -- complete with a photo finish just in time for the stock market to crash! If you have any interest in New York, history, engineering, architecture, or just love a great story -- check it out. One of the best things I've picked up in a long time.
"They seem to be springing up like asparagus tips..."
By Bruce Loveitt - November 21, 2003
About a month ago I read "Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center" by Daniel Okrent. If you are like me and can't get enough of NYC history, Neal Bascomb's "Higher" makes a wonderful companion piece. The subject is similar (massive construction projects), as is the timeframe (1920's-1930's). Mr. Bascomb's book goes into detail concerning the construction of 3 skyscrapers - the Chrysler Building, the Manhattan Company Building, and the Empire State Building. Mr. Bascomb's book works on several levels: as a straight narrative detailing the complexities of putting up super-large buildings; as a collection of mini-biographies of people integral to the story -including Walter Chrysler, and the architects William Van Alen and Craig Severance (former partners who had had a falling out); and as a cultural/social history of NYC as the Roaring Twenties end and the Great Depression begins. The author drives home the point that form and function follow personality and... read more
A love letter to New York, the greatest city in the world
By Daniel Friedman "dfja17" - June 16, 2004
Although it's focus is specifically on the construction of three major buildings of the New York skyline, Higher is deep down a very fond remembrance of a time when fortunes were literally falling and yet the city of New York grew exponentially toward becoming the epitome of the modern metropolis.Neal Bascomb meticulously chronicles the events and characters who were responsible for this fertile period, but in doing so he very successfully manages to avoid bogging down in details and figures that might hinder a similarly-themed and more scholarly approach. This isn't to say that Bascomb didn't do his homework, but that he has been able to make a comprehensive narrative that's riveting (excuse the pun) and fast-paced. Indeed, the buildings themselves were all constructed with remarkable speed considering the scope of the projects and the technology of the day.It was a great pleasure to not only follow along in what was a true rat race for the tallest building but to also gain... read more
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