Frederick Law Olmsted was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1822. He was an intelligent and ambitious man whose many interests made it hard for him to settle on a career. Although his family was supportive and understanding, it was also large, and Olmsted's father could not afford to bankroll his eldest son forever. So Olmsted tried a number of different kinds of work: His love of nature caused him to take up farming; his concern for the urban poor and for black slaves led him to a brief career in writing; his administrative skills won him an appointment with the US Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. Olmsted was good, and occasionally successful, at these pursuits, but he had trouble finding the field -- landscape architecture -- that combined his many interests because it did not yet exist. (Olmsted and his sometime partner, Calvert Vaux, coined the term.) When New York City planned to create a public park, Olmsted was hired first as superintendent of the project and then architect-in-chief, after he and Vaux won first prize for their park design. Creating the park was a long and taxing job, but Olmsted loved it. Central Park today looks very much like Olmsted and Vaux's design. Olmsted went on to create more public parks and restore and preserve natural landscapes, like Niagara Falls. He died in 1903. Dunlap's (Aldo Leopold, not reviewed) biography is absorbing and readable.