Eric Darton, Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York City's World Trade Center

Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York City's World Trade Center


Since the Sept. 11 attacks, readers searching for insight have elevated a number of related books to the best-seller list, among them Simon Reeve’s ”The New Jackals” (an investigation of Ramzi Yousef, convicted of bombing the World Trade Center in 1993) and ”Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War” by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William J. Broad (a report on the weaponry of anthrax and smallpox).

Eric Darton’s inquiry, Divided We Stand, explains exactly what the Manhattan skyline has lost and converts the facts into an elaborate and highly skeptical tale of urban planning and real estate speculation.

Darton writes that skyscrapers ”serve as containers for our interior lives: shelters, habitations, and silos of dreams. And each embodies in its particular form the social imagination that gave it license.” Stretching impressionistic criticism to its limit — and, occasionally, past it — he makes good on that promise to discover the twin towers’ symbolic value, toggling between the lyrical and the polemical. This analysis is woven through a volume that finds room to deliver a short history of lower Manhattan’s tall buildings, to eulogize Radio Row (the district demolished in 1966 to make room for the towers), to include the author’s boyhood memories of Manhattan, and to make zoning laws seem interesting.

Darton’s is the complicated view of a New Yorker who loved the World Trade Center but didn’t much like it. ”Yamasaki had accomplished an unwitting Claes Oldenburg parody of the modern skyscraper,” he writes, while also holding in mind the ghost presences of its utopian ancestors. Among them was Die Stadtkrone, the unbuilt scheme of German designer Bruno Taut. He envisioned a city ”organized around a single crowning structure embodying the collective secular and sacred needs of the entire community.” To use the phrase of one of Taut’s admirers, the twin towers served as a ”we-symbol” — a beacon, a cohering sculpture, a dominating set of dream silos storing the limitless fantasy of New York itself.

Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York City's World Trade Center
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