City of Ambition by Mason B. Williams
FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York

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...Williams’s aim is to write history, not policy analysis, and he succeeds impressively at that.
-NY Times

Synopsis

“Fascinating. . . . Williams tells the story of La Guardia and Roosevelt with insight and elegance.”—Edward Glaeser, New York Times Book Review


City of Ambition is a brilliant history of the New Deal and its role in the making of modern New York City. The story of a remarkable collaboration between Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia, this is a case study in creative political leadership in the midst of a devastating depression. Roosevelt and La Guardia were an odd couple: patrician president and immigrant mayor, fireside chat and tabloid cartoon, pragmatic Democrat and reform Republican. But together, as leaders of America’s two largest governments in the depths of the Great Depression, they fashioned a route to recovery for the nation and the master plan for a great city.

Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust”—shrewd, energetic advisors such as Harold Ickes and Harry Hopkins—sought to fight the Depression by channeling federal resources through America’s cities and counties. La Guardia had replaced Tammany Hall cronies with policy experts, such as the imperious Robert Moses, who were committed to a strong public sector. The two leaders worked closely together. La Guardia had a direct line of communication with FDR and his staff, often visiting Washington carrying piles of blueprints. Roosevelt relied on the mayor as his link to the nation’s cities and their needs. The combination was potent. La Guardia’s Gotham became a laboratory for New Deal reform. Roosevelt’s New Deal transformed city initiatives into major programs such as the Works Progress Administration, which changed the physical face of the United States. Together they built parks, bridges, and schools; put the unemployed to work; and strengthened the Progressive vision of government as serving the public purpose.


Today everyone knows the FDR Drive as a main route to La Guardia Airport. The intersection of steel and concrete speaks to a pair of dynamic leaders whose collaboration lifted a city and a nation. Here is their story.

 

About Mason B. Williams

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Mason B. Williams is a historian specializing in urban politics with degrees from Columbia University and Princeton University. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is his first book.
 
Published May 28, 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. 521 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for City of Ambition
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Edward L. Glaeser on Jul 18 2013

...Williams’s aim is to write history, not policy analysis, and he succeeds impressively at that.

Read Full Review of City of Ambition: FDR, La Gua... | See more reviews from NY Times

WSJ online

Excellent
Reviewed by Fred Siegel on Jun 27 2013

Mr. Williams's readable and well-researched history is in many ways a celebration of the La Guardia years, though it is, inadvertently, a cautionary tale as well.

Read Full Review of City of Ambition: FDR, La Gua... | See more reviews from WSJ online

Kirkus

Above average
on Mar 31 2013

Perhaps too detailed, but a useful contribution to an already rich literature.

Read Full Review of City of Ambition: FDR, La Gua... | See more reviews from Kirkus

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