In this both sweeping and specific book, Benjamin Flowers describes the Empire State Building, the Seagram Building, and the World Trade Center towers, explaining why developers undertook them and how personal ambitions influenced their designs. The son of an American State Department official, the author grew up in Bulgaria and Romania, countries where “everything was political” and new buildings symbolized allegiance to the Soviet Union (2). He sees architecture as the product of social forces and emphasizes these, instead of the stylistic and structural qualities that dominate many architectural studies.

Flowers explains that the Empire State Building, the tallest in the world when it opened in 1931, occupies an unusually large midtown plot on...

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