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Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War
by James Mauro
“James Mauro has given us a fascinating snapshot of a poignant time, a world on the brink, filled with both hope and sorrow." –Kevin Baker, author of Striver’s Row, Paradise Alley, and Dreamland.
Like a phoenix out of The Great Gatsby’s ash heap, the 1939 New York World’s Fair arose, constructed on New York’s most notorious garbage dump, built for $150 million ($2.3 billion today). But it was something of a faltering phoenix throughout its two-year duration, as former Cosmopolitan executive editor James Mauro attests in the ambitious Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War. While the Fair’s “World of Tomorrow” theme showcased the promise of the future (or pawned off gadgetry and gimmickry in a gaudy carnival-like atmosphere), a spotlight on such new technology as television, the fax machine, GM’s “Futurama,” nylon — and visiting presidents, kings, queens, politicians, sports heroes, and movie stars impressing many of the 45 million attendees — harsh reality with the jolt of impediments and cold truth also hit hard. In addition to the ominous rumblings of war, fair organizers had to deal with cost overruns, missed deadlines, unruly rain storms, wilting heat waves, labor disputes, sabotage, power failures, lower-than-expected attendance and weak revenues.
But more than anything, Mauro, besides registering other individuals instrumental to establishment and impetus of the New York World’s Fair, focuses in on four figures who embody the “Genius, Madness, and Murder” of the subtitle of Twilight at the World of Tomorrow. Chronicling the actions of Albert Einstein, from his summer home on Long Island while in exile from Nazi Germany, Mauro retells how the physicist abandoned his well-known pacifism to sign a series of letters to Franklin Roosevelt warning about Hitler's atomic-bomb program and advocating the development of an atomic bomb, a notification that eventually led to the Manhattan Project.