Books About Fiorello La Guardia
When a plane carrying Mayor Fiorello La Guardia landed at Newark airport one day in 1934, he refused to get off. His ticket, he insisted, read "Chicago to New York"; New Jersey wasn't good enough. The crew eventually agreed to fly the stubborn public servant to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
"Remember," he said as he got off the plane, in words that will still ring true to any self-respecting New Yorker. "Newark is not New York."
This was classic showboating for the "Little Flower," a New York congressman for 16 years and the city's mayor for 12. But like much of his bluster, it was followed by a tangible success. Within five years, La Guardia airport was built within city boundaries - and the federal government footed most of the bill.
The ability to simultaneously achieve and amuse has won La Guardia a lasting spot in the city's imagination. Besides the airport, New York has named streets, schools, and even a Pulitzer prizewinning Broadway musical - Fiorello! - in his honor.
The often-repeated stories of La Guardia's time in office have also been perennial favorites with authors; they are numerous enough to fill over 20 books. Widely known as the greatest mayor in the city's history, La Guardia has been the subject of four times as many books as any other New York City mayor.
It is "the transparent passion [La Guardia] brought to politics" that attracts authors to La Guardia, according to Thomas Kessner, the first director of the La Guardia Archives at La Guardia Community College in Queens. La Guardia's popularity lasts, said Kessner, through "a nostalgia tinged with a sense of awe."
Kessner's wrote the definitive biography of La Guardia, Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York (1989, 700 pgs, McGraw-Hill). It recounts his years as a champion of immigrant and labor rights in Congress; his replacement of corrupt Tammany Hall rule with a modernized municipal government; and his success in getting the federal government to pour billions into large-scale public works projects throughout the city.
Kessner "has a wealth of facts at his command and allows them to pile up, sometimes making the same point more than once," wrote Herbert Mitgang in the New York Times. "But his book is a valuable and readable research tool precisely because it is so carefully documented."
More recent books have focused on La Guardia's personality. The Great Mayor: Fiorello La Guardia and the Making of the City of New York (2003, 530 pgs, St. Martin's Press) by Alyn Brodsky, and Napoleon of New York (2002, 392 pgs, Wiley, John & Sons Inc.) by Paul Jeffers revel in the describing the character who donned a fireman's cap and dashed into burning buildings; publicly smashed slot machines with a sledgehammer; and read the comics over the radio during a 1945 newspaper strike.
Napoleon of New York "reads rather like an extended magazine profile," wrote John Gross in London's Sunday Telegraph. "It concentrates on his personality and his public image - and in many ways this is as it should be, since his most obvious attribute as a politician was showmanship."
In the wealth of literature about La Guardia, there are books concentrating on many of the less obvious aspects of his career, as well. Charles Garrett writes about the mayor as part of the city's anti-machine reform movement The La Guardia Years: Machine and Reform Politics in New York City (1961, 423 pgs, Rutgers University Press). How La Guardia - who was the city's first Italian, and first Jewish, mayor - handled the ethnic politics of the city is the subject of Fiorello La Guardia: Ethnicity and Reform (1993, 213 pgs, Davidson, Harlan, Inc) by Ronald Bayor.
This portion of La Guardia's career is also what the Little Flower himself focused on in his autobiography, which he began writing immediately upon leaving office.
His angle? The Making of an Insurgent (1948, 222 pgs, JB Lippincott Co).OTHER BOOKS ABOUT LA GUARDIA:
Fiorello La Guardia by Bella Rodman and Philip Sherling (1962, 246 pgs, Hill and Wang)
Fiorello La Guardia by Ario Flamma (1934, 77 pgs, Worthy Printing Co). Text in Italian.
A Hammer in the City by Paul Weston (1962, 158 pgs, Regency Books)
La Guardia: A Biography by John Franklin (1937, 176 pgs, Modern Age Books)
La Guardia, A fighter Against His Times, 1882 - 1933 by Arthur Mann (1959, 384 pgs, Lippincott)
La Guardia, A Salute and a Memoir by Robert Moses (1957, 48 pgs, Simon and Schuster)
La Guardia Comes to Power: 1933 by Arthur Mann (1965, 199 pgs, Lippincott)
Life with Fiorello: A Memoir by Ernest Cuneo (1955, 209 pgs, Macmillan)
Little Flower: The life and Times of Fiorello La Guardia by Lawrence Elliott (1983, 256 pgs, Morrow)
Mayor La Guardia and New York's Legendary Years by August Heckscher (1978, 448 pgs, Norton)
My Story, by Gemma La Guardia Gluck (1961, 116 pgs, D. McKay Co.)
Patience and fortitude: Fiorello La Guardia: A Biography by William Manners (1976, 290 pgs, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
This Man La Guardia by Lowell Limpus and Burr Leyson (1938, 492 pgs, EP Dutton & Co)
Why Tammanies Revive: La Guardias Mis-Guard by William Allen (1937, 144 pgs, Institute for Public Service)