Olmsted's America: An "Unpractical" Man and His Vision of Civilization

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While Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) stands among America's great innovators, his story is one of both enormous achievement and miserable failure, of public acclaim and official derision. Known as the Father of American Landscape Architecture, he is best recognized for his collaborative work with Calvert Vaux. Together they designed and built some of the greatest parks and public spaces in America, including Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Among Olmsted's numerous solo projects are ...
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Overview

While Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) stands among America's great innovators, his story is one of both enormous achievement and miserable failure, of public acclaim and official derision. Known as the Father of American Landscape Architecture, he is best recognized for his collaborative work with Calvert Vaux. Together they designed and built some of the greatest parks and public spaces in America, including Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Among Olmsted's numerous solo projects are Boston's Emerald Necklace, the grounds of the United States Capitol and the Washington Monument, and the extensive grounds at Biltmore, the Vanderbilt mansion in North Carolina. But Olmsted was a restless individual who pursued a number of careers, among them "scientific" farmer, journalist, and commissioner of the Union's Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. He was author of several books, director of the Mariposa gold mines in California, instrumental in the preservation of Yosemite and Niagara Falls - and, by extension, the founding of the National Park Service - and designer of Riverside, Illinois, the first planned suburb. Perhaps his most significant legacy to Western civilization, however, stems from his ideas and plans concerning the importance of integrating everyday life with nature. In Olmsted's America, Lee Hall presents not just a biography per se but an examination of how Olmsted's particular ideas affected the United States during his time and the important significance these concepts hold for today's world, especially as they relate to nature and the environment.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Frederick Law Olmsted (1843-1903) is still, perhaps, the nation's preeminent landscape architect. He was responsible for the design of New York's Central Park, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, the grounds of the United States Capitol, the Washington Monument and Stanford University, as well as numerous other open spaces across the country. In 1893, a contemporary described Olmsted as an artist who ``paints with lakes and wooded slopes, with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills, with mountainsides and ocean views.'' Hall (Common Threads: A Parade of American Clothing) demonstrates how Olmsted's liberal and egalitarian predispositions informed his projects. Central Park, she writes, ``was to be a democratic institution, a place where people of all classes and interests could meet, share experiences, and appreciate one another.'' Hall paints a complete picture of this American icon and deftly provides the full social context in which Olmsted worked. Written for a general audience, Olmsted's America successfully animates both the architect and his work. Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)
Library Journal
Best known as the designer of New York's Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted is considered to have defined the term landscape architecture. Current ideas of ecology and environment, of planned land use and its social impact, are all to be found in his extensive writing and expansive vision. A member of the privileged class, with all the values and prejudices implicit, he nevertheless sought to shape nature to the needs of the people. A restless as well as innovative spirit, Olmsted had many careers, including writing on behalf of abolitionists, before creating the job where he could mix all his passions. This well-written, well-documented overview for the general population will undoubtedly have a special appeal for those who are fortunate enough to live in an area touched by Olmsted. For public libraries. [For a comprehensive history of Central Park, see Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar's The Park and the People, LJ 9/1/92.-Ed.]-Paula Frosch, Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York
William Huchting
Best known for his grand parks, particularly New York City's Central Park, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, Frank Law Olmsted wore an assortment of hats but always exhibited the same determination whether he was running guns into Kansas or sticking to them while designing Stanford University. Hall, as astute here as she was in her book about the de Koonings, "Elaine and Bill: Portrait of a Marriage" (1993), chronicles Olmsted's checkered career with narrative flair, fluid interpretation, and a superb set of illustrations. Olmsted was not only "unpractical," but "politically unconnected" as well, yet he crossed paths with many of his era's most famous movers and shakers and managed to excel as an administrator, surveyor, merchant, scientific farmer, conservationist, writer, publisher, landscape architect, and Calvinist crusader for "democracy." Hall illuminates the many contradictions in Olmsted's character while paying tribute to his high-impact achievements and still-vital legacy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821219980
  • Publisher: Bulfinch
  • Publication date: 6/1/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 8.43 (w) x 10.37 (h) x 1.10 (d)

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