It's impossible to not recognize airports these days, but they had to involve into the mammoth, organized structures they are today.
Larger politically relevant details are included, but not to a large extent, which I think minimizes the impact of this book (although I concede that it may detract from the artistic viewpoint of airport design). This book discusses the impact of air hijackings in the 1970s on airport design, but left a scant few pages in an epilogue to the post-9/11 impact, which was far more widespread and severe in its scope.
It's fun to see that early airports were built to be aesthetically interesting (some neoclassical, some art deco, etc.), then morphed into what are essentially functional warehouses (Atlanta, LAX, O'Hare).
Gordon took on a topic that's surprisingly visceral: why do airports, and air travel, make us feel so melancholy -- so harried, so uncomfortable, so nostalgic for an era most of us never knew? It's amusing and touching to see how our forebears tried to manage the Age of Flight -- brave little Greek-columned terminals, with their brisk railroad-depot aura; silly homages to Versailles and its grandeur that could be appreciated only by air; Buck Rogers center-city circular skyports, teetering atop skyscrapers and land-gutting expressways, autogyros and biplanes flittering in all directions; and eventually, in a golden age that Gordon estimates lasted, oh, two weeks or so, the unleashed imagination of Idylwild/JFK, where real architects made real statements and real beauty. Gordon is generous with drawings and photos, and he makes a good effort to draw his subject out of as many airports, in as many countries, as possible. Gordon points out that even the earliest air adventurers felt that malaise, how even when you set off in high spirits to visit faraway people and exotic places, often you ended up writing about what you saw around the airport ... I would have liked to know how airplane interiors changed along with airport architecture, because surely legroom, amenities, and customer service evolved in tandem with the terminal experience. Yes, but I don't think it's inevitable that fast, cheap jets would lead to a dehumanizing travel experience -- or ugly buildings. Airport-as-bus-station is not as handsome to look at, but on a blunt level it gets the job done.
No, this is simply a nicely synthesized and engaging historical narrative about airports and airlines! Concise but seemingly comprehensive enough, Gordon provides a pleasing balance of particular architectural developments, the evolving societal engagement with flying, important political and financial aspects over the years, and interesting-yet-relevant anecdotes. (I do wonder if a study would show that the few airports that provide smoking lounges have a dramatically lower rates of passenger aggression than those that simply offer fern gardens and typically fourth-rate public art?) I guess, as 9/11 was something of an abrupt conclusion to an age of relative comfort, innocence, or flat-out denial (at least within the US), the seemingly truncated conclusion might be right on target.
The beginning of the jet age (inaugurated by Juan Trippe's purchases of Boeing 707s in 1958) led to large "apron" buildings," or "loading arcades," like at Boston's Logan airport, while increasing automobile usage spawned decentralized "unit" structures like at JFK. The author basically tells this as a story of rise and decline, from the early decorated boxes to 1960s utopian creativity to today's "sterile" and ad hoc concourse terminals.