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A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Centuryby Witold Rybczynski
Synopses & Reviews
In a brilliant collaboration between writer and subject, the bestselling author of Home and City Life illuminates Frederick Law Olmsted's role as a major cultural figure and a man at the epicenter of nineteenth-century American history.
We know Olmsted through the physical legacy of his stunning landscapes — among them, New York's Central Park, California's Stanford University campus, Boston's Back Bay Fens, Illinois's Riverside community, Asheville's Biltmore Estate, and Louisville's park system. He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the United States, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country's first regional plans.
Olmsted's contemporaries knew a man of even more extraordinarily diverse talents. Born in 1822, he traveled to China on a merchant ship at the age of twenty-one. He cofounded The Nation magazine and was an early voice against slavery. He wrote books about the South and about his exploration of the Texas frontier. He managed California's largest gold mine and, during the Civil War, served as general secretary to the United States Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross.
Olmsted was both ruthlessly pragmatic and a visionary. To create Central Park, he managed thousands of employees who moved millions of cubic yards of stone and earth and planted over 300,000 trees and shrubs. In laying it out, "we determined to think of no results to be realized in less than forty years," he told his son, Rick. "I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future." To this day, Olmsted's ideas about people, nature, and society are expressed across the nation — above all, in his parks, so essential to the civilized life of our cities.
Rybczynski's passion for his subject and his understanding of Olmsted's immense complexity and accomplishments make this book a triumphant work. In A Clearing in the Distance, the story of a great nineteenth-century American becomes an intellectual adventure.
"[An] excellent biography....a straightforward work, thorough and respectful, yet easeful in a way that is reminiscent of Olmsted himself." New York Times Book Review
"[A Clearing in the Distance] goes a long way toward capturing Olmsted the man. [A] biography that communicates, with feeling, the ups and downs of Olmsted's career as well as of the profession he helped to invent." Wall Street Journal
"Having written incisive and original books on architecture and art and even a social history of the weekend, Rybczynski has found his ideal biographical match....Clearly, Olmsted thought at least as much about the interaction of art and society as Rybczynski himself." Library Journal
Includes bibliographical references (p. 429-460) and index.
About the Author
Witold Rybczynski is the author of eight books, including Home: The Short History of an Idea, The Most Beautiful House in the World, Waiting for the Weekend, Looking Around, and City Life. The Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, he is a regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Review of Books.
Table of Contents
1. "Tough as nails"
2. Frederick goes to school
4. "I have no objection"
5. New York
6. A year before the mast
9. More Farming
10. A walking tour in the old country
Jostling and Being Jostled
11. Mr. Downing's magazine
12. Olmsted falls in love and finishes his book
13. Charley Brace intervenes
15. A traveling companion
16. The Texas settlers
17. Yeoman makes a decision
18. "Much the best Mag. in the world"
20. A change in fortune
21. The Colonel meets his match
22. Mr. Vaux
23. A brilliant solution
24. A promotion
25. Frederick and Mary
26. Comptroller Green
27. King Cotton
28. A good big work
29. Yeoman's war
30. "Six months more pretty certainly"
31. A letter from Dana
32. Never happier
33. Olmsted shortens sail
34. A heavy sort of book
35. Calvert Vaux doesn't take no for an answer
36. Loose ends
A Magnificent Opening
37. Olmsted and Vaux plan a perfect park
39. A stopover in Buffalo
40. Thirty-nine thousand trees
41. Best-laid plans
42. Henry Hobson Richardson
43. Olmsted's dilemma
45. "More interesting than nature"
46. Olmsted in demand
47. "I shall be free from it on the Ist of January"
48. An arduous convalescence
50. The character of his business
51. The sixth park
52. Olmsted meets the Governor
53. Olmsted and Vaux, together again
54. "Make a small pleasure ground and gardens"
55. Olmsted drives hard
56. The fourth muse
57. Dear Rick
Olmsted's Distant Effects
A Selected List of Olmsted Projects
Illustration and Photograph Credits
What Our Readers Are Saying
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