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City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York Hardcover – May 28, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393066916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393066913
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The New Deal undeniably was characterized by a massive growth in the scope and power of the federal government. Yet many of the most ambitious and successful New Deal programs were jointly administered with local governments, especially in large urban areas. As this striking account shows, the shining light for federal and local cooperation was New York City. Williams is a historian specializing in urban politics. At the center of his narrative is the partnership between the two most powerful leaders of the country in the 1930s: President Roosevelt and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, of New York. The ebullient and earthy LaGuardia and the patrician Roosevelt seemed an odd pair, but their partnership helped forge much of the modern infrastructure of New York, including such iconic landmarks as the Lincoln Tunnel and Henry Hudson Drive. Despite many detractors, both then and now, Williams convincingly asserts that these programs were vital and successful in stimulating a moribund economy and provided confirmation of the positive role that can be played by government at the local and national level. --Jay Freeman

Review

“An excellent account—well written and thoroughly researched—of how FDR and La Guardia, in an era of depression and war, channeled federal resources into crisis-ridden municipalities. Williams’s recounting of their achievement is a salutary reminder of what was once possible, and could be again.” (Mike Wallace, coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898)

“This illuminating study offers a fresh vantage from which to comprehend key features of the New Deal and the history of New York. Moving between a vibrant portrayal of persons and incisive accounts of processes, City of Ambition is written with verve and imagination.” (Ira Katznelson, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time)

“An extraordinary book. In telling the story of how Roosevelt and La Guardia—men as fascinating as they were powerful—forged a mighty political collaboration, it brilliantly reinterprets the New Deal from the vantage point of the nation’s greatest city. It also marks the remarkable debut of a gifted young historian.” (Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on August 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"City of Ambition", a recent book by Mason Williams, offers a welcome look at the relationship between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia. Serving concurrently as President of the United States and Mayor of New York, these two men, of different political parties, moved the city along during the depression and the Second World War. It was a partnership that benefitted both...and the city.

The author's in-depth look at these two men is excellent, though the book is dryly presented. Perhaps the best part of "City of Ambition" is Mayor LaGuardia's wish to serve in the military, only to be turned down just as he thought he'd been given a role. This is a very good book and I recommended it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By jeff b. on August 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A five star rating for this must read history of how New York City was able to prosper, paradoxically, during the great depression due to the combined efforts of La Guardia and FDR, both visionaries and politicians able to put party politics aside and accomplish great things for a great city. This highly detailed work delves into aspects of political deal making heretofore not fully described in other works characterizing this era. I would recommend this fine historical review for all of those interested in the development and growth of the greatest city in the world.
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Format: Hardcover
City of Ambition, indeed. Without being jingoistic (which, by birth, most New Yorkers like me are), the Frank Sinatra New York Anthem words ring in my ear..."if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere...." For a lot of people that's true. NYC superaltives: Financial capital of the USA. Media capital. Book publishing capital. Home of the United Nations. And the 400 years of stories about how New York, New York became the world city that it is fill bookshelves. So when "one more book" about NYC came along, I might have ignored the notice except for two marquee names that jump off the title page: Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Of course, both were New Yorkers who grew up in The City but in much different worlds. Franklin Roosevelt was a child of a Gilded Age family while Fiorello was of much more modest means; using brains and energy, he became a household name, first in NY and then across America. The great collapse of the stock market in October 1929 set up the dynamics for the many dramatic results that would follow -- the Great Depression was on. Terrible times for America and the world. Two men would change the face of New York City and state and by example would show "what is possible" in the face of defeat and despair.

And it is the story (and many sub-stories) of the unlikely partnership of the manor-born patrician and the scrapper from the streets is so fascinating...and so well done by the author in this book. I am a fan of FDR and LaGuardia and have read many books about the pair, and their era. I am so glad that I read (and re-read) this book. Congratulations to author Mason Williams for bringing the men and their era to life.
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By Tony S. on August 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While history never repeats itself exactly, there are usually enough similarities to use past experiences in the present. Such is the case here. Today's leaders---especially Congress---should read this book to rethink the role of government.
Basically, the premise is that government should be activist in order to promote the generally welfare. This is especially true when the private sector (motivated only by making profit) fails to improve the collective standard of living. Either government does something or people continue to go without basic necessities.

"City of Ambition" also is a cautionary tale. It is very easy for people to become too dependent on the government. The trick is to find the balance between government and private sector activities.

Much is written here about the politics of the time covered (1900-1930s). Another lesson for today is that the spirit of compromise and cooperation fundamental to this republic was usually followed. While bitter political rivalries were often present, a way was usually found to get something done---unlike today!

Lastly, "City of Ambition" does a nice job of detailing how FDR and La Guardia came to their philosophies and the political interaction between the two that laid the foundation for New York as it is today.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent read. I had to read this for an Urban Government class at college. Williams does an excellent job comparing and contrasting two very unique characters, La Guardia and FDR. This book ties together the New Deal with urban government issues and upon finishing it makes you question today's society and the issues current localities face against the federal government. I would recommend this to any fans of FDR and any students studying urban governments.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By NYC Economist on May 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a long time follower of and participant in New York City politics, I still had little sense of how the power of the mayor's office has been shaped and what the origins of "independent Democrats" and "fusion parties." were. City of Ambition brilliantly describes the environments Roosevelt and La Guardia came from and how it shaped their political careers and legacies. We learn how Tammany Hall's overwhelming influence pushed the patrician Roosevelt to become an Anti-Tammany Democrat, while also ensuring that La Guardia's best opportunity to become a progressive icon would be within the GOP. Tammany itself is reduced not to the Thomas Nast cartoon image we grew up with in 9th grade social studies, but instead is depicted in all its complexity, from giving new immigrants a political identity in city and state politics, to cannily seeking opportunities to grow its influence in Albany which required compromise with successful upstate Democrats like FDR. I have only finished the first two chapters, but I cannot wait to learn not just about the politics of the era but also the broader story of how FDR and La Guardia used their offices to enact a policy legacy that still shapes the city and how NYC politics are discussed today.
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More About the Author

I'm currently visiting assistant professor of history and Leadership Studies at Williams College, where I teach courses on American democracy, urban history, biography as history, and historical memory. I've previously taught at Columbia University and The New School. I received an A.B. from Princeton University in 2006 and a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2012, where my doctoral thesis won Columbia's Bancroft Dissertation Prize. In 2013-2014 I was a Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and the New School.

My first book, City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York was published by W.W. Norton in May 2013; a paperback edition comes out summer 2014. I'm currently working on a journal article about local police practices and the rise of mass incarceration in the mid-1980s and a new book on the statecraft of gentrification in post-1970s global cities.

A native West Virginian, I've lived in New Hampshire, Mexico, New Jersey, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. I now live in Williamstown, Mass., with my wife, the writer Alexis Schaitkin.

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