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1939: Lost World of Fair Paperback – May 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 2d Printing edition (May 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038072748X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380727483
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This book is a strange beast: a meditation on the meaning of the 1939 New York World's Fair seen through the lens of David Gelernter's angry political opinion that society today has gone to moral rot and ruin--mostly because of the ideas of New York-style liberals, who have led us astray. Richly detailed observations of the 1939 World's Fair and its social milieu are interspersed with a rather sparse fictional account of an old-fashioned romance that got its fuse lit on the fairgrounds. If you want a straightforward 1939 World's Fair novel, the classic is still World's Fair, by E. L. Doctorow. But Gelernter writes likes nobody else. His historical research is painstaking, and his pro-1939, anti-modern political jeremiad gives the book an eccentric but propulsive narrative drive. Gelernter has a qualified love of two-fisted old-time social engineers, such as Robert Moses, and he yearns for a time when society was ruled by authority figures instead of celebrities. Ah, the good old days, when the 1939 World's Fair introduced America to TV, the fax machine, nylons, fluorescent lighting, long-distance phone calls, and an underwater Salvador Dali exhibit starring live, half-nude women. Gelernter wrote this book while recovering from a murder attempt by the Unabomber (recounted in Gelernter's Drawing Life), but his true claim to fame is the cranky individualism of his mind. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Using the perspective of fictional characters, Gelernter presents an affectionate account of the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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If you want an up-close look at what there Fair was like, read this book!
Amazon Customer
What is amazing is how the author skillfully weaves together everything to create such a compelling story.
Steven W. Moje
I cannot recommend this book too highly...it is important but better yet, it is a great read.
eclectic reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mike C on June 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Recently I became interested in the year 1939 as a "hinge" year; so many things happened that year and it was a dividing point between the awful world of the 30s and the second World War. So I considered writing an article detailing that year, including the movies released (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz), the events leading up the the outbreak of the war, and, of course the Fair, with the wonderful and iconic Trylon and Perisphere. Others may have covered the movies and the war, but Gelernter has covered the fair in many (not all) of the ways I wanted to hear about it. He has several theses which he presents well, whether or not you agree with him:
1. The world (or the U.S.A.) was more optimistic than we are.
2. The utopia presented in the exhibits of the fair has come about in many ways.
3. There was a sense of authority in institutions, and a measure of trust and security given to them, much of which has been lost today.
4. We are not significantly more sophisticated than the citizens of that time.
5. Men wore ties and didn't mind.
Some of his theses are more superficial than others ....
I really enjoyed this book. The author communicates a love of the fair as being not only an event in itself, but emblematic of the culture and times within which it took place. He does that in two ways: by branching off for extended meditations on the cultural differences between then and now, and by interjecting a kind of a love story as narrated by a fair-goer as she remembers going with her then-boyfriend. Quite a bit of plot regarding this love story is worked into the book, which makes the book an odd mix, as if it had taken place during the sinking of Titanic or during the Civil War.
Hmmmm....
Read more ›
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Spoering on July 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
I'm one of those people who has never been to New York City, though I would love to see it. This book wonderfully transports you to that city in the years of 1939-1940 and to that World's Fair. It was a time that people thought of science and technology as something that had the power to transform their lives in a positive manner, unlike the misplaced cynicism encountered today, even though we have now realized many of the dreams of that long ago fair, and many more.
David Gelernter takes you on a tour of that fair, including the various national and corporate exibits and pavilions, many were absolutely amazing, even by today's standards. Several are described in intricate detail, and being in the 1930's electro-mechanical control systems were the rule, some being very complex. Gelernter also portrays some typical hypothetical people visiting the fair and what they did. How people dressed back then, and also the underlying societal feelings, are covered, the war in Europe being on everyones mind.
This is a very well written and comprehensive account of this most famous of fairs, I immensely enjoyed it, and Gelernter covers that last few hours of the Fair with poignancy as it closed in 1940. This account makes me wish I could travel back in time and see it myself, a wistful longing not to be.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Steven W. Moje on September 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've always been intrigued by the iconic images of the Trylon and Perisphere, from when I first saw them on a U.S Postage stamp many years ago. This book offers a way to travel back in time to live through the fair, led by the author through the eyes of fictional characters experiencing the (factual) fair. What is amazing is how the author skillfully weaves together everything to create such a compelling story. I had also bought the (100%) factual books "New York's 1939-1940 World's Fair (Postcard history series) and Dover publications' "The New York World's Fair. Both of these book offer lots of nice snapshots, but do not make the Fair come to life as does

David Gelernter"s "1939: The Lost World of the Fair." Highly recommended!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
This work does get at the sense of the New York World's Fair of 1939 by interpolating fact with fiction. However, in terms of a fact-fiction treatment of the '39 World's Fair, a more incisive work is Miles Beller's DREAM OF VENUS (OR LIVING PICTURES), also available on Amazon. Indeed, DREAM plays with the notion of invention and actualities, providing a telling perspective from which to view our notions of "progress" and "Tomorrow."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John P Bernat on October 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one of my all-time favorite books. Gelernter tells us that he intends to take us on a "virtual reality" tour of the 1939 fair. Unlike Miles Beller's more recent effort, he chooses a bright, energetic and ambitious woman as his protagonist and lets us all gradually fall in love with her. It's almost hard to see the gradual transition from our relationship with her as just eyes and ears into something much more subtle and complex.

I cannot say much more without ruining the experience. Buy the book and share the experience of a very special moment in time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Daniel P. Smith on March 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
My mother used to talk about how wonderful the World's Fair had been.
One of the cruel things about intergenerational relations is how impossible it is to communicate important things about social change. I _want_ to tell my kids about Kennedy, about Vietnam, about the McCarthy era. I hear myself talking and I know it sounds just as boring as it was to me hearing my folks talking about Roosevelt, or the Depression, or the World's Fair.
This book is fascinating and moving and it has important things to say. Gelernter is trying, with honesty and intelligence, to explore the question "What was it really like for our folks?" How can anyone _really_ know? Nobody can, but for a time as recent as 1939 it's well worth trying.
I did go to the, was it 1963, New York World's Fair. My mother said I just _had_ to, even though everybody said it was a pale shadow of the 1939 fair. I remember an IBM exhibit done by Charles Eames, featuring twelve movie screens and simultaneous shots from twelve viewpoints of, say, two train cars coupling (one closeup, one aerial, one of the dispatchers board) while the narrator said something stupid and shallow about data and information. I remember that the Coca-Cola pavilion smelled of Coke. It wasn't like 1939.
About once a chapter something pulls you up short. Sometimes it's a trivial detail ("those tractor trains at the Bronx Zoo whose horns played "Boys and Girls Together" were from the Fair.") Other times it's not so trivial.
William Manchester tried something like this in "The Glory and the Dream." Let's see, was it David Halberstam who recently wrote "The Fifties?" Gelernter's book is more readable, and more profound.
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