For two reasons this is a welcome biography -- one, of course, is our current concern with the environment, and Olmsted was a man who worked at making cities livable. Roper gives us a thorough picture of his life, but what's most interesting is Olmsted's accomplishments after he was 40 when he finally found his metier. Earlier he had experimented with scientific farming and written books about the South, but what eventually brought him success and fulfillment was his dream of community planning. He believed that homing developments could be constructed with flair and style; he believed in the restorative power of nature. People in cities needed places to go, to relax, to escape concrete, the noise of machines and the commercial morass; the human spirit could not be betrayed by nature. Roper sees Olmsted's vision as being perhaps too romantic. In theory his ideas were excellent and beautifully executed; in reality, they simply could not survive. Central Park, for example, is no longer a delight but a menace. Olmsted was one of the country's greatest landscape architects. He died in 1903 a melancholy man; his 19th-century dream desecrated by a careless society. Roper's biography might well revive his unique spirit.