April 19, 2004

Jack Covert Selects: History of Rockfeller Center

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:09 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

I was talking with Jack this morning about my post on historical books and he said we needed tell everyone about Great Fortune by Daniel Okrent. It is about the building of Rockfeller Center and it was a Jack Covert Select in November 2003. I'll let him tell you about it:
Daniel Okrent wrote one of my favorite baseball books of all time called Nine Innings, about one game of baseball in the eighties. What set the book apart for me, besides it being about the Milwaukee Brewers, was his attention to detail and his style of campfire storytelling. I am also a sucker for really well-written historical tales and I loved Ron Chernows book called Titan about John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Great Fortune could be volume two of the Rockefeller family history.
The book is actually about the idea, creation and the development of Rockefeller Center in New York. The building of Rockefeller Center is said to be the most ambitious construction project since the Pyramids, remarkably built during the Great Depression. The book focuses on four key players: John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; his twenty-five year old son, Nelson; real estate developer, John R. Todd, also the grandfather of Christine Todd Whitman; and Raymond Hood, skyscraper designer. The book is obviously about much more than the logistics of the project.
It is about architecture, New York, and the proprieties of the social classes. It is about politics and greed. An interesting aspect of this story is the acquisition of the property from Columbia University and the reasoning behind the location. A constant theme throughout the book is the construction issues, which were certainly colossal. Also, the story of the fresco by Diego Rivera is seen truly from the inside. A clear picture of the rise of Rockefeller Center is painted.
I am absolutely amazed by this books maddening ability to keep me up at night. This is a captivating story that seamlessly incorporates the human experience with a grounded factual history. You can always tell a well-researched book when the notes and bibliography are 76 pages. This is a great American tale, a history book that you need to read.