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Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center [Paperback]

Daniel Okrent
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (30 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001776
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 839,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Great Fortune An acclaimed author and journalist weaves together themes of money, politics, art, architecture, business, and society to tell the story of the majestic suite of buildings that came to dominate the heart of midtown Manhattan. Full description

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In an era when nearly every college president bore a triple-barreled name, none carried as potent a charge as Nicholas Murray Butler. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent look at the shaping of New York 29 Dec 2011
I picked up this book for touristy reasons while in the Rockefeller Center, but it surprised me by how compelling it Is. Amazingly well researched but written with the fluid, easy to read style of a novel, this is more than a look at the (incredibly complex) process of building the Rockefeller Center, it is an incisive look at the shaping of modern New York.

In giving us the story of how this landmark came to be, the book looks at the politics, economics and personalities that made New York what it is, and throws up some utterly fascinating facts in the process. I'd recommend this to anyone who ever looked up and marvelled at the New York skyline.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well done 18 May 2004
By Daniel Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robert Caro Minus the Boring Bits 15 Oct 2003
By Glen McIntosh - Published on Amazon.com
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!
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid Rendering of Rock Center's Formative Years 17 Nov 2003
By Steve Iaco - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book 19 Dec 2003
By Ben Sonnenberg - Published on Amazon.com
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.
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. 23 Jan 2010
By mirasreviews - Published on Amazon.com
"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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