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A Clearing In the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Centuryby Witold Rybczynski
Synopses & Reviews
Rarely are biographer and subject so well-matched as in Witold Rybczynski's seminal biography of the great nineteenth century landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. In such classic works as Home: The Short History of an Idea and City Life, Rybczynski, Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, has established his reputation as America's most insightful and eloquent commentator on the environments we create for ourselves. And though it is true that landscaping has hardly remained a great American art form, one of the greatest benefits of reading this book is the realization that it once was, and that Olmsted was possibly its greatest proponent.
Though today he is most often remembered as the designer of New York's Central Park, in his own time Olmsted was known for his diverse and prodigious accomplishments. World traveler, noted journalist (he cofounded The Nation), early abolitionist, and high level bureaucrat (during the Civil War he served as general secretary to the United States Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross), Olmsted's life reads like the quintessential nineteenth century, larger-than-life, can-do visionary. But Olmsted's greatest legacy was the impact he had on the way we shape the communities we live in. He 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. What makes this book such a pleasure is Rybczynski's ability to convey to his readers the passion he clearly feels for his subject and to demonstrate the enormous effect this largely unknown character had on the lives we live today. A Clearing in the Distance also demonstrates the need for a thoughtful, informed discussion of which aspects of Olmsted's vision should be remembered and reclaimed. Farley, Powells.com
In a brilliant collaboration between writer and subject, Witold Rybczynski, the bestselling author of Home and City Life, illuminates Frederick Law Olmsted's role as a major cultural figure 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, and Boston's Back Bay Fens. But 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 managed California's largest gold mine and, during the Civil War, served as the executive secretary to the United States Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross.
Rybczynski's passion for his subject and his understanding of Olmsted's immense complexity and accomplishments make his book a triumphant work. In A Clearing in the Distance, the story of a great nineteenth-century American becomes an intellectual adventure.
"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." The Wall Street Journal
"[An] excellent biography.... a straightforward work, thorough and respectful, yet easeful in a way that is reminiscent of Olmsted himself." The New York Times Book Review
"Rybczynski allows Olmsted's belief in the edifying affects of landscape to emerge gradually within his involving account of Olmsted's extraordinarily productive life, leaving readers impressed with and grateful for Olmsted's vision and his ability to express it on such a grand and significant scale." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Rybczynski is a fine writer and thinker, and this is a magisterial biography of a man who deserves the widest possible recognition." Kirkus Reviews
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, Waiting for the Weekend, 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 1st 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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