As the architect of Monticello and the University of Virginia, among other masterful buildings, Thomas Jefferson is widely considered by contemporary academics to be the most skillful practitioner of early American architecture. In his new retelling, Howard argues persuasively that were it not for Dr. Fiske Kimball, a 20th-century scholar and historian who researched his architectural heritage, we might still think of Jefferson as primarily, and exclusively, a talented statesman. This is not an exhaustive biography-Howard has already written a definitive one on this subject. It's more like a one-act play that alternates between scenes set in Jefferson's late 18th century and Kimball's early 20th century, when he investigates numerous archives. We browse through Jefferson's library, peek over his shoulder as he writes letters and watch him sketch the European buildings that inspire him. Howard's narrative is particularly compelling as he takes us through the decades of efforts that went into Jefferson's laboratory of architectural experimentation-his country home, Monticello. For context, he also includes chapters featuring other practicing architects of the time-Pierre L'Enfant, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Charles Bulfinch. Overall, readers will likely find that Kimball's single-minded passion for all things Jefferson is contagious. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Interwoven stories of America's earliest architects and prodigious scholar Dr. Fiske Kimball (1888-1955), who devoted his career to discovering, restoring and preserving their work. The title is a bit misleading: Although Jefferson does have a significant and signal presence in the work, he is not the only figure Howard discusses. The author has written about the master of Monticello before (Thomas Jefferson, Architect, 2003, not reviewed) and has published frequently on other architectural subjects (House-Dreams, 2001, etc.). Howard begins by sketching the early career of Kimball, who in 1914 discovered a vast cache of Jefferson's architectural drawings, a finding that led to his first book. Howard eventually takes us through Kimball's entire career (ending with his notable and ultimately contentious 30-year tenure as the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art), periodically interrupting with substantial segments about the lives and accomplishments of America's first builders and architects, most notably William Buckland, John Trumbull, Charles Bulfinch, Benjamin Latrobe, Samuel McIntyre and Robert Mills. Some of these-especially McIntyre and Mills-are names not well-known to the general public, and Howard does a stellar job of telling their human and professional stories. The author includes numerous reproductions of early architectural drawings and, for the most part, lets us know the fates of the structures he discusses. His account of the glorious but long-gone Derby mansion in Salem will make readers wish a preservationist spirit had prevailed in 1815, the year workmen razed the building. Howard's vast research enables him to explore the connections (not always amiable) amongthese men (Mills, for example, met them all). He also explores the social and political forces that often affect the design and placement of public buildings. Howard's discussion of the controversies about the Jefferson Memorial is especially clear and comprehensive. The star here is Kimball, who upstages even Jefferson, emerging as a towering figure in American architecture and architectural scholarship.
From the Publisher
"Howard argues convincingly that Kimball and Jefferson were the Boswell and Johnson of American architecture. Their conversation managed to leap over two centuries of separation and establish, for the first time, the origins of an indigenous American architectural style. And speaking of style, this book truly has it."— Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author of Founding Brothers, American Sphinx and His Excellency