1939: The Lost World of the Fair
David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, became one of the victims of the terrorist known as the Unabomber in 1993. He barely survived the package bomb he was sent. Who better to ponder the changes wrought by the age of technology?
At the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 (”Building the World of Tomorrow”) visitors tried to imagine us, the rosy late-20th-century future. The ingenious exhibits conjured up a wonderful world of superhighways, suburbs, televisions, fax machines, and sleek appliances. Most of the fair’s promises have been kept, short of household robots and crops under weatherproof glass. But in case you haven’t noticed, there’s trouble in paradise. 1939: The Lost World of the Fair tells us what there was in the city and the nation of 56 years ago that we have managed to lose. The 1995 America reflected in Gelernter’s 1939 mirror may not even be more sophisticated than that of those fairgoing optimists — only more cynical. Using recollections from dozens of actual fairgoers to create a typical, composite character, his book offers not only a remembrance of futures past but a more personal past of fragile, locked-up secrets worthy of a Henry James novel. A