Labor Day weekend might be a good time to make at least a small dent in the pile of New York political books that we meant to read this summer. The pile is high, but as anyone who has packed too many hardcovers for a weekend beach trip knows, it’s fun to dream.
Among the choices:
"On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller," by Richard Norton Smith. A doorstop biography of the former New York governor and vice president who was "the most powerful member of the most powerful family in the most powerful nation on earth." He was also a "wealthy patrician with the common touch," the book suggests, though some family members felt distanced: "I only wish we knew him as well as the voters of New York do," his daughter Mary once said. Contemporary New Yorkers might note a different phenomenon: the disappearance of the political creature known as a Rockefeller Republican.
"The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst," by David Nasaw. A look at one of the big personalities of New York history whose newspaper empire, developed over the first part of the last century, meant he was "a celebrity who is guaranteed four million readers every day," a power he used when trying to run (unsuccessfully) for mayor, governor, and president.
"City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York," by Tyler Anbinder, which tells the story of newcomers to New York City — from Alexander Hamilton to Emma Goldman and Oscar de la Renta, plus the sons and daughters of immigrants who became ballplayers, workers and business owners. Many of those immigrants’ descendants, of course, later moved to Long Island.
"FDR: The New York Years," by Kenneth S. Davis, whose early sections include a tense and emotional scene of the governor-to-governor transfer of power in New York in 1928, when Al Smith relinquished the Executive Mansion to Franklin Roosevelt. "No man ever willingly gives up public life — no man who has ever tasted it," Roosevelt would later say — and became the proof of his own maxim by running for, and winning, the presidency four times.
"Tweed’s New York: Another Look," by Leo Hershkowitz. With a title like that — challenging the stereotype of big, bad Tammany Hall, which shaped New York politics for decades, and its most infamous leader Boss Tweed, who presaged other political masterminds when he said, "I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating" — how can you resist?