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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well done
Daniel Okrent, public editor of the New York Times, has crafted a terrific history and love letter to New York through the microcosm of the tale of Rockefeller Center, one of the seminal landmarks of the city and one of those true stories that seem stranger than fiction.
I can only speak for myself but I imagine that it's hard for anyone who has lived in New York in...
Published on May 18, 2004 by Daniel Friedman

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you like historical minutae you'll enjoy this book
Although a slow read, this book is well worth having in your history collection. It fills in those annoying gaps in your knowledge of the era and could possibly change your mindset on the Rockefellers per se.
Published on May 27, 2008 by Mrs. Susan J. Hey


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well done, May 18, 2004
This review is from: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Hardcover)
Daniel Okrent, public editor of the New York Times, has crafted a terrific history and love letter to New York through the microcosm of the tale of Rockefeller Center, one of the seminal landmarks of the city and one of those true stories that seem stranger than fiction.
I can only speak for myself but I imagine that it's hard for anyone who has lived in New York in a time when Rockefeller Center has always existed to appreciate the level of diplomacy, architecture, finance, and artwork that went into creating the complex, not to mention the somewhat scandalous occurrences, but Okrent captures it with a snappy prose style that also manages to blend in some fine observations and humorous analogies. Especially due to the continued presence of the Center, it is gratifying to be able to put into modern context the various descriptions and details and visualize them as they exist today.
The history of the Rockefellers, while obviously much broader and filled with much more intriguing information than is relevant here, is nonetheless captured more than adequately, particularly John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his second son Nelson. More than just the account of a building project, the book also marks the transition between old-time New York society of the Gilded Age and the modern New York of the twentieth century. The chapter regarding the controversial Diego Rivera mural seeks to set the record straight on a story that has taken on it's own life over the years and the characters who have previously been given short shrift finally get their due.
Perhaps it's fitting that the seminal word on the complex should come from the Gershwins - "They all laughed at Rockefeller Center, now they're fighting to get in." And we still are. Great book for fans of history, New York, architecture, or just plain good writing.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robert Caro Minus the Boring Bits, October 15, 2003
By 
Glen McIntosh (New York, New York United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Hardcover)
Absolutely terrific! An absorbing look at the social and cultural history of New York in the first half of the 20th Century, told through the prism of the greatest construction project in American history. I figured it would be good, because I've read the guy's baseball stuff before, but I didn't figure it would be this good.Wonderfully anecdotal, seriously scholarly, ujtterly captivating. And you don't have to be a New Yorker to be bowled over!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid Rendering of Rock Center's Formative Years, November 16, 2003
By 
Steve Iaco (northern new jersey) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Hardcover)
Daniel Okrent has produced a vividly rendered account of Rockefeller Center's formative years. This is a superb book, destined to the the definitive standard on its subject, that will appeal strongly to readers with a wide variety of tastes and interests.
Seven decades removed from the event -- with Rock Center holding such an iconic place in the Manhattan skyline -- this reader was especially struck by Rock Center's seemingly star-crossed beginnings: its architecture universally excoriated (Lewis Mumford being among the most vociferous early critics, until suddenly and inexplicably reversing course); opening night at Radio City Music Hall an unmitigated flop; the sparsely-trafficked retail concourse derided as "the catacombs;" a controversial Diego Rivera mural providing a public relations black-eye, etc. With its leasing program stalled in the Depression-ravaged economy, the Rockefellers desperately slashed office rents from $4 to $1 per sq ft, under-cutting the market. Their tactic of buying-out the existing leases of companies being courted to lease space at the Center -- not uncommon in today's marketplace -- drew the opprobrium of rival property owners, including a lawsuit from August Heckscher (whose grandson would go on to be a high profile Parks Commissioner).
"Great Fortune" is laden with rich anecdotes and compelling, larger-than-life characters like the mercurial John R. Todd (managing agent and construction manager and grandfather to the future New Jersey Governor, Christine Todd-Whitman); the lead architect with a penchant for fast living, Raymond Hood, and, of course, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his ambitious second son, Nelson, first among equals of the Rockefeller's third generation.
Okrent is a gifted wordsmith (it's not suprising that the New York Times just named him its new ombudsman) who's penned an entertaining, fast-paced narrative. Anyone even remotely curious about New York City and its history will be held in thrall from cover to cover. Recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book, December 19, 2003
By 
Ben Sonnenberg (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Hardcover)
GREAT FORTUNE is even better than its best reviews suggest. Its understanding of society and social history, of architecture and architectural history, its authority of research and elegance of style--its sheer fun!--make GREAT FORTUNE that rarity among modern books: a work one can read and read again. Okrent's portrait of the great Raymond Hood is alone worth the price of the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Rockefeller Center Came To Be: The People, Politics, Art, Architecture, & Ambition., January 22, 2010
"Great Fortune" is a history of the people, the buildings, the politics and the greatness of one of the biggest building projects in human history: Rockefeller Center. When he agreed to lease 11 acres of midtown Manhattan land from Columbia University, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (AKA "Junior") intended to build a grand opera house. He ended up building an enormous complex of 12 buildings containing 5.1 million square feet of office space, 2 theaters, restaurants, and retail shops, all financed by Junior himself during the Great Depression. Daniel Okrent takes us through the whole project, from the days of the ill-fated opera house project, demolition of 228 buildings on the site, hiring of the developer and architects, building, decorating, and leasing the buildings, 1928-1939.

Okrent balances the creative and financial details of the project with the personalities involved. Woven into the story are biographical details of many of the principle and some tangential characters. These include John D. Rockefeller, Jr., his sons Johnny and Nelson Rockefeller, who would become president of Rockefeller Center, developer John R. Todd, architects Raymond Hood, Harvey Corbett, Wallace Harrison, Reinhard, and Henry Hofmeister, the flamboyant designer of Radio City Music Hall's theater Samuel Lionel "Roxy" Rothafel, RCA president and inventor of commercial radio David Sarnoff, and more. The book is dense with detail about who did what and why, and we stories like the straight scoop on the infamous Diego Rivera mural intended for the RCA building.

Most of the book concerns the first phase of the complex, 1931-1936, but the second phase, 1936-1939, is also covered. Any later additions are not covered, but Okrent does look at Rockefeller Center through World War II, the 20th century, and its legacy into the 21st in the book's last chapters. "Great Fortune" is densely packed with details on a wide variety of issues related to conception, building and leasing, but I was amazed at Daniel Okrent's ability to make it all fluid. "Great Fortune" brings the sweeping, multifaceted story behind Rockefeller Center to a wide audience. It may be of special interest to students of urban development, as it shows the level of complexity and efficiency a project of this scale requires. The book was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Page Turner Full of Fascinating Characters and Stories, June 14, 2006
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This lively narrative history is full of fascinating characters and stories. The humbly powerful John D., Jr. (who financed it), the Victorian president of Columbia (who leased the land), Nelson Rockefeller (who took over command of it), and the extraordinary team of builders and architects who designed and built it--they and many others truly come to life. How do you build a vast commercial center in the depths of the Depression? How do you rent out the space? How does it become more than a collection of office buildings and turn in one of the world's great tourist attractions, and a symbol of NYC as the world's modern commercial capital? Okrent tells us with wit, with sympathy and admiration, but without sparing some of the gory details. A great choice for anyone who enjoys reading about business enterprise, architecture and design , the Rockefellers--or about the central character in the tale, the city of New York.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remember Tracy Kidder?, December 5, 2003
This review is from: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Hardcover)
Daniel Okrent takes his little theme - which involves the whole history of American real estate development, big business, big law, big oil, the growth of the 20th century American university, the Depression, the New Deal, the growth of New York City, the twentieth century transformation of architecture, the clash of egos, the history of American theatre and more - and yet, despite this narrow focus, makes it even more interesting, absorbing and thrilling than Tracy Kidder's epic of building a single family dwelling in HOUSE.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you like historical minutae you'll enjoy this book, May 27, 2008
Although a slow read, this book is well worth having in your history collection. It fills in those annoying gaps in your knowledge of the era and could possibly change your mindset on the Rockefellers per se.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Yorker's book about New York, October 30, 2007
I stumbled across this book after my father in law died. What a gem of a book - so well written, extensively researched and compelling. The book is a dense integration of New York City History, Politics, Architecture, Real Estate and the Rockefeller family's influence on the built environment.

Each chapter is almost a novel unto itself. The author accurately conveys the architectural rivalry and the forced cooperation of the Associated Architects led by Raymond Hood to collectively design this complex. The Rockefeller Center Project was built during the Depression, when there was no other construction, except for the Empire State Building.

So many forward looking urban design concepts were incorporated into the Master Plan of the complex. The story of how the building designs were tailored to match the major Tenant's needs is also fascinating. Also, the decision to include the work of a variety of contemporary artists keeps this complex distinctive to this day.

The information about New York City was enlightening, even though I've lived and worked as an architect in New York City for many years. The biographical sketches and in depth portraits of the hundreds of people involved in assembling, designing, building and leasing the site is amazing in its depth and breadth.

This book is a slow read because of the shear volume of information covered by this fact filled book. A great read for anyone who is fascinated by New York City and its architecture and social history - an excellent book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable detail, February 1, 2004
By 
Steve Sora (Easton, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (Hardcover)
The story of Rockefeller Center is truly epic and in one way a history of New York in the twentieth century. A true behind the scenes look at the story of a complex and a city. The one drawback was the entire bankruptcy of the center was reduced to one paragraph in the Epilogue. It alone is worthy of a book.
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Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center
Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent (Hardcover - September 29, 2003)
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