A CLEARING IN THE DISTANCE by Witold Rybczynski

A CLEARING IN THE DISTANCE

Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century

KIRKUS REVIEW

An extraordinary biography of an impossibly accomplished 19th-century American. Perhaps most famous for having designed New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822—1903) did much more over an astonishingly various career. In this thoughtful study by noted urbanologist Rybczynski (City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World, 1995, etc.), Olmsted emerges as a man without whose contributions America would have looked very different a century ago—and would look very different today. He was, writes Rybczynski, “an organizer when organization was considered a symptom of monomania and a long-range planner in a period that thought of planning as mysterious. He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the US, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country’s first regional plans. Olmsted’s genius for organization was not always widely appreciated, for he often expressed it imperiously, as when he ordered Central Park’s rangers to complete a circuit of the park three times daily and to prepare detailed reports on their activities. Yet he accomplished great things, and Rybczynski reveals them one by one throughout the course of his always intriguing narrative: he worked as an antislavery journalist for the New-York Daily Times and as an editor for the Nation and Putnam’s Monthly magazine; wrote scores of books and book-length reports; and, most impressively of all, designed a large roster of public and private landscape projects, among them the Bay Area’s Mountain View Cemetery, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Montreal’s “Mountain,” portions of the Stanford University campus, the park surrounding Niagara Falls, the gardens surrounding North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, and the grounds of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This abundantly varied career yielded an uncommonly rich legacy that is part of the nation’s vocabulary of shared images. Rybczynski is a fine writer and thinker, and this is a magisterial biography of a man who deserves the widest possible recognition. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-82463-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999




MORE BY WITOLD RYBCZYNSKI

NonfictionLAST HARVEST by Witold Rybczynski
by Witold Rybczynski
NonfictionTHE PERFECT HOUSE by Witold Rybczynski
by Witold Rybczynski
NonfictionTHE LOOK OF ARCHITECTURE by Witold Rybczynski
by Witold Rybczynski

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionGENIUS OF PLACE by Justin Martin
by Justin Martin