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Empire Rising
by Thomas Kelly

Category: Fiction / Historical
0 pages; ISBN: 0374147817

Rating: 8/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Harriet Klausner

Review

Empire Rising
Thomas Kelly
FSG, Feb 2005, $25.00
ISBN: 0374147817

On St. Patrick's Day 1930, construction is to begin on the Empire State Building in spite of the nation struggling with the Great Depression. As with anything in the city that matters, the world’s planned for the highest structure, though not a brick has been laid yet, already has a history. Bribes, extortion and kickback to grease unions and industry cooperation and to obtain political acceptance as high as the mayor’s office and some say Albany and DC has been the norm.

Mayor Jimmy Walker understands best the importance of the construction of the Empire State Building as he is a magician able to turn a hand shake into "honest graft". Al Smith is in charge of the construction because a politician needs to be in charge. In this city where many starve, jobs count whether you are former IRA terrorist turned ironworker like Michael Briody, illegal bankdrop artist Grace Masterson, or the Deputy Commissioner of Buildings Johnny Farrell, the building means money and political careers can fall off the observation walk or vanish into a crater if one betrays the bosses who run the island.

This is an interesting period piece that makes readers think about legal contributions that both parties receive today (who attended those inauguration balls anyway?) though the parallel is not totally fair as the 1930 payouts were illegal. The lead character is the Empire State Building, who even today though no longer the highest structure still holds a grip on people; though one must wonder if the previous champ the Chrysler Building did likewise for our grandparents? The prime story line centers on the building’s construction fueled by a city of graft and bribery providing a fascinating look at the underbelly of the politico-capitalist complex

Harriet Klausner

 

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