- Hardcover: 656 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (June 5, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400063035
- ISBN-13: 978-1400063031
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 46 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,511,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Washington Post journalist Vogel provides an incisive history of the Pentagon both as an architectural construct and as an American symbol, though not as an institution. Vogel traces the politics and design considerations involved in planning a new home for the previously scattered War Department (forerunner of today's Department of Defense) in the early 1940s. Wartime conservation subsequently forced builders to use the least amount of steel possible, and much concrete. The Stripped Classical building—erected in 16 months at a cost of $85 million—was made with five sides chiefly because it lay on remnant acres between five appropriately angled roads. At the time, it was a massive undertaking: five concentric rings of offices, 17.5 miles of corridors and a five-acre central courtyard. Vogel demonstrates how planners conceived the structure as fitting into L'Enfant's original plan for Washington, D.C., and goes on to depict it as a national icon. In this vein, Vogel describes the building as a target for protesters during the Vietnam War (with special attention to October 1967's March on the Pentagon, immortalized in Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night), and, of course, the 9/11 attack. Throughout, Vogel artfully weaves architectural and cultural history, thus creating a brilliant and illuminating study of this singular (and, in many ways, sacred) American space. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Pentagon was constructed in a frantic rush in 194143; its physical history is as bland as poured concrete but as significant as the symbolism the building has acquired. Washington Post reporterVogel narrates the backroom handshakes that initiated the project—no environmental impact statements needed in 1941—and centers it on the army general in charge. Brehon Somervell sited it first on a pentagonal parcel adjacent to Arlington Cemetery, but FDR ordered it moved down the Potomac. Vogel introduces the architects, contractors, and workers involved; relates labor and social (i.e., segregation) incidents during the construction; and pauses for ideas proposed for postwar disposition of the Pentagon. It never became an archive center as FDR imagined, but instead was retrofitted, restored, and after 2001, partially rebuilt to maintain it as the American military's central command post. Covering quotidian events such as broken pipes, eccentric ones such as Abbie Hoffman's 1967 "levitation" of the building, and the devastating terrorist attack of 9/11, Vogel produces a comprehensive biography of the Pentagon. Taylor, Gilbert
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
The first two-thirds of the book deal with the conception, design, and construction of the building. Headed by a man mostly forgotten to history, Brehon Somervell, with a large personality and even larger plans for the building. It came about when the United States began mobilizing its military, especially the Army, in 1940 and 1941, before even entering World War II. The Department of War found itself scattered across Washington, D.C. in numerous offices without a central command center to organize the massive mobilization efforts. President Roosevelt, and top War Department officials, were convinced a new, large building would be needed. Enter the likes of such men as Somervell and contractor John McShain who took on the large project.
The building was hastily conceived and the book explores the reason for some of its quirky designs. The pentagonal shape was originally left over when the building was originally going to be built north of its actual location on a oddly shaped plot of land. When the site was moved, the pentagon shape was already finalized. The short height of the building, only five stories tall, also came about because D.C. traditionally does not have large skyscrapers and the Pentagon was not going to disrupt the view.
The construction set off at a rapid pace. It only became faster after Pearl Harbor and the U.S.'s entry into the war that the need for the new War Department building became all the more evident. People were moving in long before the building was complete, although in rather poor working conditions as construction continued. The building would be completed in early 1943 overbudget and only slightly behind schedule. The book also looks at events directly following World War II as the Department of War was reorganized into the Department of Defense.
After that, the book flash forwards to 1967 with America in the midst of the Vietnam War. In October of that year, a large protest with tens of thousands of protesters marched on the Pentagon. Pentagon leaders planned ahead and mobilized a few hundred troops around the building for protection. However, problems with communication impeded the effort allowing some protesters to make it in the building.
Moving forward to the 1990s, the building was in a state of decay. Rusting pipes and other defects, brought to the attention by "Pentagon Mayor" David Cooke, led to a project to renovate and upgrade the entire building.
One section of the renovation was complete on the morning of September 11, 2001 when, during the terrorist attacks on that day, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building destroying a section of the building and killing many. However, advances such as bomb-proof windows were credited with saving lives.
Reconstruction of the damaged portion of the Pentagon began the next month with the goal of September 11, 2002, the one-year anniversary of the attack, for completion. Many said it was an unrealistic and overly-optimistic goal, but due to the fierce leadership and non-stop work from builders, the rebuilding was completed weeks ahead of schedule. A memorial to those who died in the attack would also be built.
I found this to be a very fascinating look at the history of the Pentagon. This is not a military history, but a history solely focusing on the building itself. Highly recommended.
It focuses on the key players - Brehon Somervell in particular, who was critical to the building proceeding despite growing political opposition in the pre-Pearl Harbour political climate, though some concessions were required (such as it not being built in the preferred location, next to the Memorial Bridge at a place called Arlington Farm as it would upset the aesthetic from Lee House to the Lincoln Memorial. So it was moved half a mile downriver to its present location. There were also strict limitations on its size. Following Pearl Harbour, Somervell dispensed with the size and even budgetary limitations (it eventually cost about twice the original appropriation). By focusing on the individuals concerned as a theme throughout, the book retained a strong human touch. I never thought a book about a building being built could be so interesting - the imagery offered by many of the original inhabitants is a real strength of Vogel's work.
The real highlight for me, however, was the final section dealing with the reconstruction of the Pentagon after 9/11. It was one of the most compelling accounts of the attacks that day that I've ever read - again mainly due to the thoughtful way Vogel meshes the accounts of survivors with the affect of the aircraft's impact on the building. This creates a very strong and engrossing narrative - and ties some of the points made earlier about some seemingly arcane engineering details.
This is a great book, and I'd suggest one for anyone interested in US politics, US military history, and of course anyone looking for a credible participant's account of what happened on 9/11.