City of Ambition: FDR, LaGuardia, and the Making of Modern New York

Mason B. Williams. Norton, $29.95 (544p) ISBN 978-0-393-06691-3
The Great Depression sparked not just the aggrandizement of Washington but the efflorescence of municipal government, according to this sweeping reinterpretation of the New Deal political economy. Historian Williams explores the interdependence of F.D.R.’s New Deal with the progressive administration of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia: as Roosevelt sought ways to channel federal relief and public-works spending into a moribund economy, La Guardia responded with a plethora of shovel-ready infrastructure projects and social programs, from the Lincoln Tunnel and the Triborough Bridge to parks and beer gardens, an opera house, and legendary arts and theater initiatives. The result, he shows, was a vast expansion of municipal capabilities—in 1937 the Works Progress Administration was providing 31% of New York’s budget—that transformed New Yorkers’ conception of the role of government and bequeathed a “homegrown version of social democracy.” Williams builds his analysis around vivid profiles of F.D.R. and especially of La Guardia, the colorful, pugnacious Republican reformer who roped union militants and socialists into his coalition. (The author’s rich account of the era’s crazy-quilt political alliances will astonish readers accustomed to today’s rigid partisan lines.) Challenging conventional stereotypes about big government and local control, Williams highlights federalism as a revolutionary force. 8-pages of photos. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/11/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
Paperback - 494 pages - 978-0-393-34898-9
Open Ebook - 544 pages - 978-0-393-24098-6
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