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Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America Hardcover – May 6, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Miller dates the pivotal transformation of midtown Manhattan from the completion of Grand Central Terminal in 1913 and its direct impact on the area nearby, but he focuses on the next decade, during the colorful Prohibition Era mayoralty of Jimmy Walker. From 1921 to 1929, we learn, a building went up in New York, on average, every 51 minutes. Along with the construction came monumental cultural changes, described here in commensurate detail. In what amounts to a social history of an extraordinary place and time (though there is no attempt to explicitly demonstrate the premise of the subtitle), Miller offers portraits of outsized individuals who altered New York, most of them not native New Yorkers: architects, such as the Rumanian Jew, Emery Roth; media pioneers (David Sarnoff and William Paley); newspaper and book publishers (Horace Liveright, Richard Simon and Max Schuster, Bennett Cerf) , Broadway producers (Flo Ziegfeld), musicians (Duke Ellington); sports figures (Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth), and successful merchants (Bergdorf and Goodman, Gimbel, et al.). He includes exceptional immigrant women: rival cosmetics giants Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden and designer Hattie Carnegie. Miller’s prose is workmanlike but his scope prodigious, even if the book’s focus blurs amidst the deluge of minutiae. Predominantly relying on previous publications, Miller usefully attaches a 50-page bibliography that, perhaps as much as the text itself, will become an essential resource for future historians. --Mark Levine


"[An] entertaining new history of Manhattan in its modern heyday. . . . Accessible, romantic, sweeping and celebratory." (Beverly Gage The New York Times Book Review)

“A great skyscraper of a book. Supreme City is the improbable story not just of America's greatest metropolis during the Jazz Age, but the biography of an epoch.” (Rick Atkinson, author of The Guns at Last Light: The War in Europe, 1944-1945)

“Sparkling. . . . The history of dozens of astonishing newcomers who — largely in one tumultuous decade, the 1920s — made New York into what Duke Ellington called the capital of everything. . . . Miller skillfully weaves these different and colorful strands into a narrative both coherent and vivacious. . . . The full story richly deserves his original synthesis and, for me, makes New York even more fascinating.” (Robert MacNeil The Washington Post)

“Lower Manhattan dominated New York for three hundred years. In the 1920’s, however, as Donald L. Miller makes clear in a page-turning book with an astonishing cast of characters, Midtown became the beating heart of the metropolis. Supreme City is about how these few square miles at the center of a small island gave birth to modern America. If you love Gotham, you will love this book.” (Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University; Editor-in-Chief, The Encyclopedia of New York City)

“Sweeping. . . . Enjoyable. . . . [In the 1920s] New York was the United States intensified, an electric vessel into which the hopes and desires of a nation were distilled. As Mr. Miller's vivid and exhaustive chronicle demonstrates, Jazz Age Manhattan was the progenitor of cultural movements—individualized fusions of art and commerce—that came to symbolize the American way of life.” (David Freeland The Wall Street Journal)

“Donald L. Miller’s latest triumph. . . . [he] elegantly introduces one vivid character after another to recreate a vital and archetypical era when, as Duke Ellington declared, the whole world revolved around New York.” (Sam Roberts The New York Times)

“Supreme City sings with all the excitement and the brilliance of the Jazz Age it recounts. Donald Miller is one of America’s most fervent and insightful writers about the urban experience; here he gives us New York City at its grandest and most optimistic.” (Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd)

Supreme City captures a vanished Gotham in all its bustle, gristle, and glory.” (David Friend Vanity Fair)

“A splendid account of the construction boom in Midtown Manhattan between World War I and the Great Depression, and the transformation of transportation, communications, publishing, sports, and fashion that accompanied it. . . . [Miller is] a virtuosic storyteller.” (Glenn C. Altschuler The Philadelphia Inquirer)

"Miller's Supreme City is an awesome book on an awesome subject, a time in the history of New York City when commerce and culture engaged in a symbiotic relationship, spurring an unprecedented boom in architecture, art, music, theater, popular culture and communications that lit up the city, then America, and then the world." (Allen Barra The Daily Beast)

"Miller's saga . . . reads like an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. . . . With a novelist's skill, he brings history alive through vignettes on the lives of gangsters, corporate barons, corrupt politicians, impresarios and sports legends who left their indelible imprint on the city, the nation, and history." (Ron Devlin The Reading Eagle)

“Donald L. Miller has long been one of my favorite historians. Anyone who reads Supreme City will understand why. Miller brilliantly examines the birth of Midtown Manhattan during the glorious Jazz Age. It’s the story of how a gaggle of success-hungry out-of-towners—including Duke Ellington, Walter Chrysler, E. B. White, and William Paley—turned the Valley of Giant Skyscrapers near Grand Central Terminal into the symbolic epicenter of wealth, power, and American can-doism. Highly recommended!” (Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University and author of Cronkite)

“Lively . . . synthesizes a vast amount of material on everything from skyscrapers to showgirls to create a scintillating portrait of Manhattan in the ’20s. . . . Much of Supreme City’s charm comes from the amiable way Donald Miller ambles through Jazz Age Manhattan, exploring any corner of it that strikes his fancy.” (Wendy Smith The Daily Beast)

"The heart of the sprawling book is the human element, which Miller highlights as smoothly and illuminatingly as the American Civil War historian Shelby Foote. . . . He catches the dirt and laughter, the daring, the insane chances, the new technological marvels and even the beauty. . . . The result is certainly one of the best histories ever written of [New York City].” (Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review)

“Miller captures the heady excitement and enduring creativity of 1920s Manhattan. . . . Conveying the panoramic sweep of the era with wit, illuminating details, humor, and style, Miller illustrates how Midtown Manhattan became the nation’s communications, entertainment, and commercial epicenter.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“An award-winning historian surveys the astonishing cast of characters who helped turn Manhattan into the world capital of commerce, communication and entertainment. . . . The narrative bursts with a dizzying succession of tales about the politicos, impresarios, merchants, sportsmen, performers, gangsters and hustlers who accounted for an unprecedented burst of creativity and achievement. . . . A scholarly . . . social history but one with plenty of sex appeal.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review, one of the Best History Books of the Year))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416550194
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416550198
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donald L. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College. He hosted the series A Biography of America on PBS and has appeared in numerous other PBS programs in the American Experience series, as well as in programs on the History Channel. He is the author of eight previous books, among them the prize-winning City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, The Story of World War II, and D-Days in the Pacific.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#55 in Books > History
#55 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Constant Reader on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. It is a collection of fascinating vignettes of Manhattan in the 1920s. This covers everything from Jimmy Walker to gangsters to Texas Guinan to William J Wilgus, the architect of Grand Central Terminal, to beauty entrepreneurs to Fred F French & Irwin S Chanin to Walter Chrysler and his beloved skyscraper. Also included are "Roxy' Rothafel & his magnificent movie palace & the radio boys, Sarnoff & Paley, Jack Dempsey & Gene Tunney, Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig, Duke Ellington & Flo Ziegfeld.

There is something for everyone here if you are interested in New York's history. It was a fascinating time of great change for the great metropolis. The personalities are split up into 27 chapters with each chapter standing on it own. This is good because if you have no interest in boxing you can skip this chapter and move on to a character and subject that interest you. It is well written and moves you along at a quick New York pace.

I enjoyed reading Donald Miller's "City of the Century" 18 years ago. That book is his history of Chicago. While I am a Chicagoan I think this book is much better. I think if you love New York then you will love this book.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gateur2 on May 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Historians recording the arrival of railroads in the American West have described situations where a railroad bypassed an existing town, which was soon superseded by a completely new town which rapidly developed around a station on the new railroad line. An analogous situation occurred in early 20th Century New York City, where the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad built major terminals in mid-Manhattan: Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street and Pennsylvania Station at 34th Street. Both sites were well north of the city's traditional Downtown - "Wall Street," the densely-developed Central Business District at the southern tip of the island. The construction of the two new terminals in what (until then) had been considered New York City's traditional Uptown soon transformed the area into a second, completely new Central Business District - Midtown Manhattan. As a further consequence, the sparsely developed, almost rural, area further north - above 59th Street and adjoining Central Park -- became the city's new Uptown.

Donald Miller's book is a study of the creation and impact of Midtown Manhattan during the 1920s. Previously, the district was characterized by docks, warehouses, bars, gas works and abattoirs along both its riverbanks; factories, tenements and middle class townhouses as one went further inland; and, finally a parade of ostentatious mansions centered along Manhattan's spine of Fifth Avenue. Miller chronicles the district's transformation from "a commercial backwater" into a veritable new and exciting city. Midtown Manhattan became a cluster of glamorous theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques, high-end department stores and (especially) skyscrapers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Donald Miller's recently published "Supreme City" provides a new and welcome approach to urban history. Concentrating on the years 1926-1932, Miller brings New York City to life like no previous work. Without sacrificing his high scholarly standards, Miller moves the story along at the pace of a gripping novel. He reveals how these years were so critical to the economic, social, cultural, political, and physical changes that transformed the city and made it what it is. In telling the stories of the fascinating personalities and organizations that re-created the city during these years, Miller easily clarifies their vastly complex and significant relationships. Miller has, once again, as he did with Chicago in "The City of the Century," produced a significant history that is eminently readable, and a "must-read" for anyone curious about the iconic city that has so defined urban America.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on November 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book contains 582 pages of text and I read this book for a while and then switched to something else before tackling another section. There were parts of the book I thoroughly enjoyed such as the baseball, boxing, gangsters, Charles Lindbergh, Flo Ziegfeld, the chapters on the building of the Holland tunnel and George Washington Bridge, and some of the chapters involved in the construction of buildings such as the Chrysler Building, the baby of Walter Chrysler who said, "I like to build things." Another chapter I found interesting was the one on S. L. Rothafel, better known as Roxy, who had the Roxy theatre built. He had a great quote which read, "Don't give the people what they want; give them something better than they expect."

I found it interesting to know where some of the historic buildings of the past were located and when they were demolished. New York is a fascinating city and one could be dropped off most anywhere in the city and know that something historic took place there. I skimmed parts of the book I didn't especially care for but I'm glad to add this book to my library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Kadel on July 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an amazing and revealing book about an era in the history of NYC that is most interesting .
The author Donald L Miller shines a light on this time period and enlightens the readers as to the importance of events and people during this exciting phase of growth in this great city.
It covers the major geo political events and the extraordinary construction that took place at that time,while peppering those events with chapters of interesting information on the individuals who lived and worked to make Manhattan the Supreme City .
A must read for everyone interested in the development of the culture of this city and this country.
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