July 2010

Twilight precedes darkness

By James Mauro
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Few epic celebrations have predated more dire events than the 1939 New York World’s Fair, nicknamed “The World of Tomorrow.” Its futuristic exhibits and architecture were designed to divert global attention from the Great Depression’s economic devastation and the sense of impending doom signaled by the rise of Nazi Germany. Instead, as James Mauro’s invigorating and enjoyable new volume Twilight at the World of Tomorrow reveals, the Fair proved a preamble to natural disasters and human failures on a grand scale.

Mauro uses four main figures to symbolize the era’s sensibility and events. Undoubtedly the most colorful was the remarkable genius Albert Einstein, who increasingly came to distrust government and ultimately question the development of a weapon he once championed, the atomic bomb. Einstein hated conflict and warfare, yet he mistakenly felt building this weapon would frighten the world into abandoning armed conflict as a solution to its problems. Instead, it simply became another tool in the military arsenal. While its use ended World War II, Einstein never forgave himself for endorsing its creation.

The book pays equal attention to World’s Fair President Grover Whalen, a master salesman who got egotistical dictators Mussolini and Stalin to contribute pavilions for the fair. Sadly, Hitler’s European conquests destroyed any sense of international cooperation and joy these exhibits conveyed, while shattering Whalen’s optimism and exposing his hypocrisy and pretension. Mauro also details the behind-the-scenes deals and machinations of New York politicians, particularly Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, whose actions were self-serving and often embarrassing.

Finally, he spotlights detectives Joe Lynch and Freddy Socha, who made the ultimate sacrifice while investigating a wave of bomb threats and explosions. Their lives are prime examples of underpaid, exhausted and overworked civil servants determined to discover the truth, even as others, including their superiors, are more interested in personal profit and status.

Twilight at the World of Tomorrow smartly mixes political, cultural, historical and mystery elements, giving readers a thorough, gripping account of a key period that changed the nation and the world forever.

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