Nearest Thing to Heaven The Empire State Building and American Dreams Mark Kingwell, Mark Crispin Miller

Icons of America
Publication date:
16 Nov 2007
Yale University Press
256 pages: 229 x 149mm
Sales territories:


A new perspective on a beloved cultural icon, its place in our history, and its meaning in the American imagination

This elegantly written appreciation of the Empire State Building opens up the building’s richness and importance as an icon of America. The book leads us through the facts surrounding the skyscraper’s conception and construction, then enters into a provocative theoretical discussion of its function as an icon, its representation in pictures, literature, and film, and the implications of its iconic status as New York’s most important architectural monument to ambition and optimism. The Empire State Building literally cannot be seen in its totality, from any perspective. And paradoxically, this building of unmistakable solidity has been made invisible by familiarity and reproduction through imagery. Mark Kingwell encourages us to look beneath the strong physical presence of the building, to become aware of its evolving layers of meaning, and to see how the building lives within a unique imaginative space in the landscape of the American consciousness. He offers new ways of understanding the Empire State Building in all its complexity and surprising insights into its special role as an American icon.

Mark Kingwell is professor of philosophy, University of Toronto, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, and the author of eight books.

"This book is surely one of the literary highlights of the year... Go out now, buy and read this book for yourselves. It is a rare treat." Peter J. M. Wayne, Spectator

"In a scholarly tribute to the classic skyscraper; Kingwell charts the life of this iconic building from conception to construction and, by placing it deep in the American psyche, offers new ways we can understand its cultural significance."—The Independent

"The tone of this scholarly tribute to "the building" is fun-loving cultural studies, with references to Don DeLillo, Barthes, Virilio et al as the author takes a leisurely conceptual stroll around it." Steve Poole, The Guardian

"A thoughtful book... In tracing the Empire State Building's multiple meanings and associations, Kingwell ranges widely." Andrew Mead, Architects Journal