This is a history of America's fifty-year experience with a vital legal institution--zoning. Though he concentrates on its beginnings in the Progressive era, Mr. Toll, a lawyer, also goes on to chronicle zoning's subversion by real estate interests in the booming '20's; the revival of public rights in the '30's; and the problems confronting contemporary planning strategists. The topic is important and could have produced fresh perspectives on urban development and on changes in the idea of property rights. But the treatment disappoints. One problem is muddled thinking; another, overinclusiveness. Aiming (one guesses) to provide ""background"" for the growth of the institution, Toll throws in anything that might conceivably be related. Thus the first quarter of the book is taken up with a review of Social Darwinism, muckraking, the nostalgia for Arcady, the growth of lower Manhattan, the early labor movement, the rise of the skyscraper, and the personality of William Howard Taft (""a national delight""). Some of this is relevant, but Toll does not draw the connections clearly. The general reader will also be puzzled by the near-equation of ""zoning,"" and ""planning,"" and by the overemphasis on New York City, which was not the first American city to be ""zoned."" Still, as a first historical survey, it contains some valuable material, and may be of interest to students of urban history.