Monday, August 16, 2010

Twilight at the World of Tomorrow

   Pocast / Audio

  I’ve always been fascinated by World’s Fairs, and because I never had the chance to attend one, I guess I like to attend them through books about them.
     The 1939 and 1940 World’s Fair in New York City had everything:  lights and action, famous people, new technology, financial challenges, pavilions from around the world--all on a reclaimed dump, in the midst of the war brewing in Europe.

     It was touted as a look forward to a future of peace--when the world wanted so much to believe in peace, but realities in Europe made it an impossible dream.  It was meant to surpass the 1933 World’s Fair, a grand plan that fell short of its goal.  The ego of the president of the Fair infused the fair with part inspiration, part vulgarity, and part that was just plain silly.

     Albert Einstein spoke at the fair, even as he was writing his letter to President Roosevelt about the atomic bomb.    European nations built pavilions, only to leave them empty or as monuments to the spirit of a people mourning the loss of their freedom as nations fell to the Nazis.   The General Motors Futurama exhibit transported visitors on moving seats through a huge diorama of a cross section of the United States.   There was an aquacade, a midway, food vendors--and all the triumphs and troubles you might expect from an event of this scale--the largest world’s fair that had been produced at the time.

     “Twilight at the World of Tomorrow:  Genius, Madness and Murder at the 1939 Worlds Fair on the Brink of War” is a detailed look behind the scenes of the fair--the planners, the backers, the nations, the people attending the fair, and the people working at the fair.  It’s a story with Albert Einstein and the story of two New York City Bomb Squad policemen killed by a bomb placed in the British pavilion.
     It’s a story about politics--in New York, in the Fair organizers and backers, and in the world.  They could not be separated in 1939.

     When I picked up this book I was expecting it to be like “Devil in the White City, “ but it is its own story.  Perhaps it is my interest in world’s fairs but, in spite of this not being my usual sort of read, I found myself going back to finish it every time I thought I might not.   The fair represented something of a microcosm of what was happening in the world in 1939--a world that hoped for peace even as it fell inevitably toward world war. 

     Not your usual history book, “Twilight at the World of Tomorrow, “ by James Mauro nevertheless tells about this moment in world history against the backdrop of a world’s fair.

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