Steven Millhauser's 1996 novel "Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer" tells the story of a man who grew up poor in nineteenth-century New York City but achieved success through hard work and clever ideas.

Martin Dressler was the son of a cigar maker who, after receiving promotions at the hotel that employed him, decided to open one - then a chain of restaurants. After a few years, he sold the chain and turned his attention to building and managing modern hotels. His ideas resonated with the press and potential tenants, so he continued incorporating new ideas into new hotels. This strategy worked until it did not, leaving a Manhattan building with expensive and creative amenities but a high vacancy rate.

Dressler's meteoric rise in business parallels his difficulties with personal relationships. He befriends a mother and her two daughters - Emmeline and Caroline Vernon. Martin connects with Emmeline but decides to marry the beautiful and withdrawn Caroline. The marriage never succeeds. The couple has nothing in common, and Martin's infidelity, along with Caroline's listlessness, makes it impossible for them to become close.

Millhauser does an excellent job painting a portrait of New York City in the 1890s. It was a period of significant growth for the city, and the fictional Martin contributed to this transformation with his vision.

Martin's final vision of a hotel is so self-contained that one never needs to leave. This vision resonates with Martin, who is self-absorbed but not with the press and the public, who desire a connection with the outside world.

I seldom find a novel as easy to consume as this one. Each chapter flowed into the next with a natural progression, so I finished it in one sitting. Millhauser builds a believable set of characters and an entertaining story of the rise and fall of an American businessman.

"Martin Dressler" is a very good story of ambition and pursuit of the American dream, but it is also a story of hubris and arrogance.