Most helpful positive review
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Quirky but passionate and evocative
on June 5, 2002
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.
Anyway, although this wouldn't be the stopping place for books about the fair (I was desperate for more pictures, at least), it's a wonderful starting point to find out about the year. Best of all, he treats the people and attitudes of the time seriously and doesn't let present-day cynicism interfere with his appraisal. I'm not sure I agree with all of his conclusions but I like what he says about the "American religion", manners, and cultural knowledge in general, and the chapter on "Dynamite, Manhatten, 1939" is worth reading on its own; in fact, it's almost a precis of what he is trying to say.