WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The book at a glance: The Napoleon of New York by H. Paul Jeffers. John Wiley & Sons, $30.00, 392 pages.
There are some who believe that New York City is the capital of the world. A throbbing, vibrant place full of excitement and danger, it is home to 8 million people, each with their own story.
The problems associated with governing such a teeming mass of humanity are legendary. It has been said more than once that, next to being president the toughest job in America is to be mayor of New York.
And yet, for some, the desire to hold that particular office comes on almost as a kind of fever. Teddy Roosevelt tried for it and failed.
Publisher William Randolph Hearst, the father of "Yellow Journalism," tried unsuccessfully to win it and, with somewhat more success, to pick some of the others who occupied the office.
John Lindsey was elected mayor as a Republican and later became a Democrat, thinking that his chances to become president would improve in the other party. Ed Koch, elected mayor three times in the 1970s and 1980s, thought it would be an easy step from city hall to the governorship. He was wrong.
Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg is, according to at least one survey, the richest man in American politics today. Of all the jobs he could have bought, he chose the one it was likely hardest and most expensive for him to win.
Towering above them all is the man known affectionately as "The Little Flower" -- Fiorello H. LaGuardia.
LaGuardia set the standard by which all subsequent mayors have been measured. The years he spent in office -- 1934 to 1945 -- are regarded by many as a golden age in this history of "the city that never sleeps."
H. Paul Jeffers, a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction and a former broadcast journalist, tries to provide a fresh perspective on LaGuardia, the man as well as the mayor, in his new book, "The Napoleon of New York."
As the title suggests, Jeffers comes at his subject from the perspective that he was, to put it kindly, a bit of an autocrat. To him, LaGuardia was a driven, sometimes ruthless leader who was, as the flyleaf says, "as tough and unforgiving as the city he governed."
Jeffers seems to think that may have been a bad thing. Others would likely say that it's the way to run New York City successfully.
The strong mayors -- LaGuardia, Koch, Giuliani, Wagner -- succeeded, more or less, in reshaping the city in their own image, for good or for bad.
The weak mayors -- like Abraham Beame, Lindsey, William O'Dwyer and David Dinkins -- were devoured by the city they could never figure out how to lead.
As LaGuardia proved over and over, the only way to run New York is with hands firmly on the tiller and with a good kick in the shins to anyone who tries to dislodge them.
Jeffers' attempt to document his life is like being allowed to lick the spatula after someone has just finished icing a seven-layer chocolate cake: you get a hint of the flavor with almost none of the substance.
It is not that this is a bad book; quite the contrary -- it is well written and covers the high and low points of his life. The problem is that LaGuardia is a larger-than-life figure, today as well as when he was mayor, and it is hard to tell the full story in such a brief book.
His accomplishments are almost too numerous to list: LaGuardia Airport, constructed in what was then record time at his instigation; the 1939 New York World's Fair; the construction of the city's first low-income housing projects and the leveling of the slums; and, potentially above all else, the racket-busting.
It was LaGuardia, with his police commissioner, Lew Valentine, who made the city hot for the mob bosses who corrupted so much of daily life. He had, at times, the help of Thomas E. Dewey -- as he had the help of Robert Moses to produce the many public works projects that are still urban marvels.
But it was because the mayor himself was willing to make a stand, to be publicly tough on those who would abuse the people of his city, that the efforts succeeded and were not suborned.
LaGuardia, and his primary backers like Judge Samuel Seabury and Newbold Morris, advanced the cause of political reform in New York. It is generally forgotten that LaGuardia, though the prototypical urban welfare liberal, was a Republican who rode to power on a wave of outrage over the municipal corruption endemic to the Democrats' Tammany Hall machine.
"The Napoleon of New York" would serve anyone well as an introduction to the man who is, perhaps, the only politician to have his life made into the subject of a successful Broadway musical.
It is, however, certainly not the last word on a subject well worth reading about again and again.