1939: The Lost World of the Fair

ISBN: 038072748X
ISBN 13: 9780380727483
By: David Gelernter

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About this book

1939 evokes a time when America and the world were unknowingly poised on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. Gelernter gives readers a virtual reality picture of the 1939 World's Fair, and the passionate feelings it still evokes in those who were there. Illustrations.

Reader's Thoughts

Kari Mathias

It was pretty well, written, but I found it to be incredibly boring. I guess I'm not cultured enough to enjoy this book.


Excellent snapshot look at America in the depression and looking toward war overseas. Its some of the small things like working people smoking to stave off hunger that sticks in the mind.


An intriguing look into life and American society in what are called the "High 1930s" (1935-39). The last remaining years of America's innocence in the 20th Century. An era when men always wore hats and women often wore gloves. A time of hope and optimism that persnal well-being could be found in all things material, machine and technological coming out of the ravages of the Great Depression.


Extremely interesting.I have a Heinz pickle pin!


a history book with the sweetest thread of a love story woven throughout. a beautiful, insightful book. then again, i'm pretty much obsessed with life in new york city from around the turn of the century to 1960. i like his argument that all the technologies of the future presented at the 1939 world's fair were largely realized in the 60's. and that we collectively lost something to believe in, and it sort of set us adrift. this also really made me want to go to disney world, because it's the closest i could probably get to the 1939 world's fair. at the very least i'm craving a state fair, thank goodness the syracuse one is fast approaching. Rules of Order: Outside on a summer day, perhaps in August before a trip to the fair.

Rob Salkowitz

This is one of the top 10 books I have ever read, notwithstanding the fact that the author is apparently something of a right-wing crank. Fantastic evocation and celebration of the culture of the 1930s, with an inventive and unexpected structural complexity.

Kelly Bolin

I really wanted this to be a 5-star book, but it just wasn't. The book did provide a fascinating look at what the world was like at that time, not only physically, but mentally - which was the best part. But the parts of the couple at the fair and his "interview" were drawn out, a bit dry and sometimes hard to follow. I also thought the whole drama with Sarah was unnecessary and distracted from the rest of the book.


There are some occasions when a book is so good that it surprises you. This is the case with "1939 The Lost World of the Fair", which may very well be the most under-rated and under-appreciated history book of the past 20 years. Written by David Gelernter, MIT professor of technology and a victim of the Unibomber, this book tells the story of the 1939-1940 World's Fair in New York. Gelernter describes the enormous effort to convert the swampland in the Flushing district of Queens into a world class fairground, the types of exhibits at the fair, the world events that shook the fair on a seemingly daily basis, and the lasting effects that the fair had on the people who attended it. It seems like such topics would be dry and uninteresting, but I was captivated by the book. At the end I was disappointed that it was over. And I learned so much about the world of the late 1930s.Gelernter goes into more than just a tourist's eye view of the fair. He explores the human element of it as well. He describes the optimism of the 1930s, how people felt that the world of the future would be better, how they looked to the future with a sense of joy. Even during days when war was unfolding around them, and the Great Depression was already a decade old, people were optimistic. The saw a better life for their children than what they themselves have had, and they saw technology as a wonderful means to bring about that world. Whatever happened to that view? Why is it that our world, which has realized the dreams of the 1930s and then some, is so cynical about progress? Perhaps we can learn something from the generation of the fair.Perhaps the best part of this book are the personal interviews that Galernter relates with people who visited the fair. He ties in the experience of the fair with the previous experience of the poverty of the depression, and the subsequent experience of the Second World War. There is a particularly captivating story of a young woman who fell in love with a young man during the summer of the fair, and shared her summer with her young beau and the fair. In subsequent years she would lose her love to the war, but even though her sweetheart was gone, the fair was still special to this woman, all of these years later. It is a heart moving tale. I was in tears when I read it.Overall I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to those with an interest in technology or the history of the 1930s.


"I actually bought the hardcover edition of this book as a gift for [my spouse] when it first came out in 1995. Yes, it’s taken me thirteen years but I finally got around to reading it. Now that I’m done, I can see why it took so long since [my spouse] warned me that the book wasn’t very good. Gelertner’s central idea is solid — presenting the 1939 New York Worlds Fair as both a straightforward history and an impressionistic, novelized view from a 'typical' visitor — but unfortunately it fails to succeed on either point. Gelertner’s main problem is that he digresses too much, and as a result the book often gets bogged down with his Grampa Simpson-like diatribes over how much more favorably he perceives the America of 1939 versus contemporary times. The diary portions, detailing the memories of a woman who got engaged to her boyfriend at the Fair, go so far afield that at times I wanted to scream 'I don’t care!' This lady goes on and on about her conflicted inner feelings with nothing of substance about the Fair itself. It’s very symbolic of this frustrating book — guess I’ll have to keep waiting until this fascinating subject gets the comprehensive book it deserves." - Scrubbles.net review, August 24, 2008.

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