Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Higher, by Neal Bascomb

This audiobook was obtained for free from NetLibrary.com, was 11 hours and 10 minutes long, and was narrated by Richard M. Davidson.

The 1920s were the perfect time for egos, ambition, idealism, and innovation to thrive. And it was at the very apex of the Roaring 20s, just before the collapse of the stock market, that the modern skyscraper began to flower.

This story is about the men who designed, financed, and built the tallest buildings in the world at the dawn of the Great Depression. Walter Chrysler, the newly minted automobile magnate, was an engineering junkie who played an active roll in designing the Chrysler Building. The architect, William Van Alen, was a highly regarded designer who had acrimoniously split with his business partner, H. Craig Severance. Severance was now building a competing project at 40 Wall Street, and both men were determined to build the tallest building in the world.

This is a more interesting book for all the background on the creation of the technology that allowed buildings to go from the load-bearing masonry construction that limited height, to the steel-cage design, high speed elevators, and improved hydraulics that make it possible to both build and inhabit skyscrapers.

But it's the human story with its attendant drama that takes "Higher" to another level. All of the parties who were involved in these projects had come from humble beginnings, and these buildings were also intended to be monuments to ideas and hope; something that we would do well to grasp in our cynical age. This is a 4 star book.

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