cover image 1939


David Hillel Gelernter, Gelernter. Free Press, $23 (418pp) ISBN 978-0-02-874002-7

The 1939-40 New York World's Fair was built on a garbage dump in Flushing, Queens. Through the eyes of fictitious characters, we see the exhibits: AT&T, Ford, General Motors, DuPont, Futurama and Democracity. We review the fair's many firsts: the introduction of regular TV broadcasting, FM radio, fluorescent lighting and the fax machine. The computer--which existed in a rudimentary form--wasn't even mentioned. We are introduced to the society of the day--everyone loved big-band music, men always seemed to wear neckties and all feared the European war that had just begun. Also at the fair, ``pornography was a mainstay''; the fair perhaps even invented the peep show. The author convincingly argues that the Americans of 1939 were more sophisticated than Americans are today: they were readers, and their educational systems were superior. Three names crop up repeatedly: President Franklin Roosevelt, inventor of the New Deal, which fueled the money that made New York City what it is; Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the no-nonsense turbo known as the Little Flower; and builder Robert Moses, the man with the edifice complex that made--and some say destroyed--modern New York City. Return to a time when lunch at the Automat was 15 , the streets were safe--and remember one thing: the fair went bankrupt. Gelernter (The Muse in the Machine) has given us a portrait of yesteryear that is to be cherished. Photos not seen by PW. (June)