The New York Times
In their account of the rise and fall of the World Trade Center, James Glanz and Eric Lipton evoke the romance of skyscraper construction in New York even as they tell a version of it that ended in unimaginable tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. The book centers on the power of an unaccountable public agency, cunning legal and political maneuvers and brilliant engineering innovations devised to address extraordinary structural challenges. It also registers the dignity and determination of Oscar Nadel and other proprietors in Radio Row, the consumer electronics district, who fought a smart, tough and losing battle against the hugely more powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey … Glanz and Lipton thus tell a fascinating story not unlike the one Robert Caro told in his now classic book on Robert Moses; their canvas is smaller but it is big enough to capture the grandeur and grandiosity of it all.
This is not a book only about September 11; the towers' collapse begins on number 236 of 337 pages of narrative text. New York Times reporters Glanz (science) and Lipton (metropolitan news) instead deliver a thoroughly absorbing account of how the World Trade Center developed from an embryonic 1939 World's Fair building to "a city in the sky, the likes of which the planet had never seen." In this lively page-turner, intensively researched and meticulously documented, a world of international trade, business history, litigation, architecture, engineering and forensics comes clear-a political and financial melodrama with more wheeling and dealing than Dallas, touched lightly with the comedic and haunted by tragedy. The authors move a Robert Altman-sized cast (engineers, architects, iron workers, builders, demolitionists, lawyers, mobsters, mayors, mathematicians, critics, activists, real estate dealers, biochemists, union organizers, an aerialist, an arsonist) through the design, construction, destruction and memorializing. Faceless entities like the Port Authority acquire names, personal histories and diverse agendas. Bureaucratic reports and public hearings, reduced with clarity and balance, become comprehensible, even readable. The authors are remarkably skilled at telling all without telling too much: a "deadening" 44-page speech by Port Authority official Austin Tobin gets short shrift but a fair account. Their descriptions of new technologies (e.g., "artificial creakiness"), fresh experiments (particularly in wind engineering), complicated financial maneuverings and secret studies become clear to the non-specialist reader. While some superlatives might have been avoided ("the biggest and brashest icons that New York ever produced," etc.), Glanz and Lipton tell this compelling story without becoming overwrought, and with graphs and charts (and 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW) that contribute immensely to understanding the logistical and technical aspects of the project. This book may be the definitive popular account of the towers. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
New York Times reporters Glanz and Lipton have written the biography of the World Trade Center, using a casual, storytelling style that reads more like a well-researched New Yorker magazine article than a formal history book. The book is in three parts: Chapters 1 through 7 chronicle the long and arduous building of the two towers; Chapter 8 tells of their brief, 30-year tenure; and Chapters 9 and 10 record their hard and quick fall. The story of the buildings' rise is peopled with the usual array of the rich and powerful, the architects and artisans, as they battle for influence. This part of the story is told conventionally. The middle section is a description of the humdrum daily life of the towers as commercial buildings, and its telling is anecdotal and mildly amusing. It is only in Part 3, when the towers come down, that we are drawn into the horror as the story violently shifts to the people who are dying before our eyes. This last part skillfully pulls all the book's earlier information into the full arc of the towers' life story, and the book, as a complete narrative, vibrates with palpable tragedy. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-Glenn Masuchika, Rockwell Collins Information Ctr., Cedar Rapids, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A remarkable biography-and autopsy-of the Twin Towers, controversial, like its subject, from start to finish. The World Trade Center, according to New York Times science reporter Glanz and metro reporter Lipton, began as a brainstorm by a man once called "the P.T. Barnum of real estate," William Zeckendorf, who had previously engineered the sale of a former Midtown slaughterhouse to erect the UN complex. That deal had effectively retired the only Midtown site large enough to accommodate a rival to the Rockefeller Center. When David Rockefeller, head of Chase National Bank, went looking for a building site to house his acquisition-swollen firm, he found that he had to stick close to Wall Street. The building he and Zeckendorf began planning in 1955 mutated, by 1961, into what a feasibility study called "A World Trade Center in the Port of New York." Though at the start many Manhattanites opposed the costly project, by the time the WTC was completed in late 1970, the towers "shouldered their way into the affections of ordinary New Yorkers." The WTC may have had a strange beauty, Glanz and Lipton write, but the construction was compromised in many ways by shortcuts taken to lighten the massive structure; whereas the Empire State Building, which survived a massive explosion when a B-25 bomber collided with it in 1945, was sheathed in brick and masonry that protected its girders and offered substantial fireproofing, the steel of the Twin Towers "was sprayed with a lightweight, foamy product . . . forming a fluffy coasting that would be hard-pressed even to stay in place-let alone give any fire protection-during a blast or impact or violent conflagration." And that steel was so thin, theauthors write, that when American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower on September 11, 2001, "the light aluminum of the plane's fuselage and wings simply entered the building almost without slowing down." The implications seem clear: such shortcuts, made innocently enough in the interest of aesthetics and cost-effectiveness, condemned the WTC to fail and fall. A confidence-shaker that deserves widespread discussion as a new WTC begins to take shape.
From the Publisher
"[A] magnificent book." -The New Republic
"James Glanz and Eric Lipton's brilliantly reported and profoundly moving but admirably clear-eyed account of the accidental conception, long gestation, difficult birth, brief life and tragic death of the World Trade Center is likely to remain a classic."
-The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
From City in the Sky:
The phone rang at 7 a.m. in the four-story, red-brick townhouse on East 65th Street where David Rockefeller was just finishing up his breakfast before his commute to work. Rockefeller, the youngest grandson of America's first billionaire, took a certain patrician pride in riding the Lexington Avenue subway downtown to his office at Chase National Bank, his newspaper folded lengthwise so that he could read it in the morning crush, just like everyone else. But on this day in February 1955 Rockefeller would make his commute in the back of a gray Cadillac limousine whose license plates read, very simply, WZ. Those were the initials of William Zeckendorf, the eccentric but brilliant real estate mogul and family friend who had phoned to say he had an idea that just couldn't wait. "I'll pick you up," Zeckendorf blurted to Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, who had just been appointed executive vice president for planning and development at the bank, was used to such outbursts from Zeckendorf, a bald, moon-faced man some people liked to call the P. T. Barnum of real estate. Now Zeckendorf was working out a sure-fire deal for building a giant new headquarters for Chase National Bank. His plan was so complicated that he did not want to describe it on the phone. He wanted Rockefeller to himself during the limousine ride downtown. This was going to be one hell of a deal.