How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America


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Supreme CityThis spring Simon & Schuster will publish Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller, the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of several books about World War II. Miller also wrote the bestseller City of Century about Chicago, and his book Masters of the Air is currently in production with Spielberg and Hanks at HBO.

As its subtitle proclaims, the book examines how midtown Manhattan rose to become the nation and world’s capital of commerce and culture via mass communication – radio, film, music, printing – as well as architecture, spectator sports, and organized crime during the roaring 1920s.

While F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, Manhattan was transformed by jazz, night clubs, radio, skyscrapers, movies, and the ferocious energy of the 1920s, into -  in four words: “the capital of everything.” Duke Ellington captivated Manhattan during one of the most exciting and celebrated eras in our history: the Jazz Age. Radio, tabloid newspapers, and movies with sound appeared. The silver screen took over Times Square as Broadway became America’s movie mecca.

As mass communication emerged, tremendous new skyscrapers were built in Midtown. In one of the greatest building booms in history, the city moved from downtown to midtown through a series of engineering triumphs: Grand Central Terminal and the new and newly chic Park Avenue it created, the Holland Tunnel, and the modern skyscraper.

Miller digs deep into the players of this historical drama, many of them immigrants, who helped transform the city. Among those featured are Cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden and her rival Helena Rubenstein; New York Mayor Jimmy Walker; gangster Owney Madden; industrialist Walter Chrysler; entertainment entrepreneur Florenz Ziegfled; boxing promoter Tex Rickard; CBS founder William Paley; NBC founder David Sarnoff; jazz legend Duke Ellington, and more.

The 1920s was the Age of Jazz and the Age of Ambition. In less than ten years Manhattan became the social, cultural, and commercial hub of the country. Supreme City is ultimately a portrait of ascension as a global epicenter.

Note: Books noticed on The New York History Blog have been provided by their publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

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