Assuming you actually read my righthand sidebar, you may have noticed that I have been reading Daniel Okrent's Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center for a long time. And you may, incorrectly, assume that it a book that requires slogging, that I was reading it out of some sort of imagined obligation rather than out of any real interest. But rather, my time with Great Fortune was interrupted by a book club selection, so you see the extended timeline was most certainly not the fault of Mr. Okrent.
This weekend, after some not so subtle prodding from the very patient librarians from the New York Public Library, I finally completed the tome.
And, for the record, loved it.
I'm not exactly a history buff, but I find the history of places that I know to be fascinating. It's just much more relevant for me to know that a train once hit a cow on 58th Street before Park Avenue was built than to know that Magellan sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. I suppose that in the same way I find my family history to be interesting...because I like to know who and what came before me...I like to know the ancestry of the places I have lived and those that I now reside in.
And so I loved the stories of the obstinate land owners, the self important heads of cultural and educational institutions, the ego-centric but brilliant entertainers and artists, the brave and original architects and most of all, the courage and civic-mindedness of the second and third generation Rockefellers, who conceived of and completed, respectively, what is still the most complex, imaginative and well-designed real estate development in New York's history.
It got me to thinking...where are all of the scions of great fortunes these days? It seems they are particularly positioned to add to society...the first generation spends all of its time making the money, and the next generations can spend time thinking of creative and powerful ways to spend it. So who's it going to be?