Buy One, Get One 50% Off Our Monthly Picks!
Shop Now
Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

by Justin Martin

Paperback(First Trade Paper Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Friday, June 3


The full and definitive biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, influential abolitionist, ardent social reformer and conservationist, and the visionary designer of Central Park

Frederick Law Olmsted is arguably the most important historical figure that the average American knows the least about. Best remembered for his landscape architecture, from New York's Central Park to Boston's Emerald Necklace to Stanford University's campus, Olmsted was also an influential journalist, early voice for the environment, and abolitionist credited with helping dissuade England from joining the South in the Civil War. This momentous career was shadowed by a tragic personal life, also fully portrayed here.Most of all, he was a social reformer. He didn't simply create places that were beautiful in the abstract. An awesome and timeless intent stands behind Olmsted's designs, allowing his work to survive to the present day. With our urgent need to revitalize cities and a widespread yearning for green space, his work is more relevant now than it was during his lifetime. Justin Martin restores Olmsted to his rightful place in the pantheon of great Americans.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780306821486
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 10/30/2012
Series: A Merloyd Lawrence Book Series
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 73,839
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 5.10(d)

About the Author

Justin Martin is the author of several books, with his two most recent titles covering Civil War-era subjects. Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America's First Bohemians, selected as the outstanding biography of 2014 by the Victoria Society, New York, and as a finalist for the Marfield Prize, was also picked as one of the best books of that year by both the Kansas City Star and Choice magazine. Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted was also met with many plaudits and glowing reviews nationally. Martin lives with his wife and twin sons in Forest Hills Gardens, New York.

Table of Contents

Photo Credits ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Why Olmsted Matters 1

I "An Enthusiast By Nature": Growing up, 1822-1851

1 So Very Young 6

2 At Sea 21

3 Uncommon Friends 35

4 A Farmer and Finite 48

5 Two Pilgrimages 61

II "The Cause of Future Freedom": Southern Travels and Journalism, 1852-1857

6 "The South" 74

7 Tief Im Herzen Von Texas 89

8 A Red-Hot Abolitionist 103

9 The Literary Republic 108

III "A People's Pleasure-Ground": Conceiving Central Park, 1857-1861

10 "Is New York Really Not Rich Enough?" 124

11 Right Man, Right Place 135

12 A Park Is Born 148

13 Growling Green 161

14 Swans 172

IV "Heroes Along with the Rest": Civil War Service, 1861-1863

15 In Search of a Mission 178

16 In the Republic of Suffering 196

17 Antietam to Gettysburg 211

18 "The Country Cannot Spare You" 223

V "There Seems to Be No Limit": California, 1863-1865

19 Gold Dust 232

20 Yosemite 244

21 Unsettled in the West 254

VI "Where Talents and the Needs of the World Cross": Shaping the Nation, 1865-1877

22 New Prospects 270

23 City Planning: Buffalo and Chicago 287

24 Battling Boss Tweed, Splitting with Vaux 303

25 Blindness and Vision 313

VII "I Have All My Life Been Considering Distant Effects": Summits and Sorrows, 1877-1903

26 A Troubled Wander Year 328

27 Stringing Emeralds 335

28 Saving Niagara, Designing Stanford 347

29 Big House in the Big Woods 359

30 A White City Dreamscape 369

31 "Before I Am the Least Prepared for It" 387

32 Fade 399

Epilogue: Olmsted's Wild Garden 401

Notes 407

Index 437

Appendix: The Olmsted Views 453

About the Author 461

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews, 4/15/11
“The remarkable story of America’s first, and still foremost, landscape architect…Martin helps explain the driven, artistic temperament that informed the famed landscapes. He persuasively casts Olmsted as essentially a social reformer whose passion for meaningful work found its most complete expression in the creation of public spaces intended for the enjoyment of all. A revealing look at a still-underappreciated giant whose work touches posterity more intimately and more delightfully than many of his distinguished Civil War–era contemporaries.”

Gazette, 4/16/11
“A full-scale biography.”

The Daily Green, 4/29/11
“[A] straightforward and enjoyable book…Reading this book, you get a full picture of the man, a man frustratingly immature and coddled for so many years, a man struck by personal tragedies…and ultimately a man whose achievements warrant a full-length biography.” Red Weather Review, 5/1/11“A nicely rounded portrait…This lively rendering of ‘a hard man’ who created beauty should have wide appeal.” Publishers Weekly, web-exclusive 5/16/11“[An] ardent biography…Martin presents Olmsted's era in all its glory, with the intimate affairs and staggering accomplishments of the great man unfolding against the vivid backdrop of 19th-century America.” Manhattan magazine, June 2011“This biography of the landscape designer who stamped Manhattan green shows him to be a troubled idealist who had an unlucky personal life, but who nonetheless shaped some of the most important public spaces in America.” Buffalo News, 5/13/11“Olmsted led one of the most productive and influential lives in American history, yet owing to the diffusiveness of his early ventures and the nature of his principal legacy, landscape architecture, he has never attained the name recognition of some of his more singularly focused peers. Justin Martin's engaging new biography will help to change that perception…A fast-moving and fascinating narrative of the life of one of America's great visionary figures.” Roanoke Times, 5/15/11“The story of Olmsted’s life offers today’s readers an opportunity to see what effect one energetic and imaginative person had on the formation of today’s nation. The author delivers this fascinating story in a prose that invites the reader to complete the book in one sitting—and then ask for more.” American History Blog, 5/8/11
“An excellent book…Martin tells Olmsted’s life story in such a way as to bring the reader into Olmsted’s life. It is an enjoyable read that flows smoothly. A biography is enjoyable both because the subject has led an interesting life AND because the author has presented that life in a readable way. Genius of Place has just that combination. I highly recommend it."
 Wall Street Journal, 5/31/11"Martin is good at shedding light on the less familiar aspects of Olmsted's life. Having written biographies of Alan Greenspan and Ralph Nader, he seems to know his way around rather remote personalities...Engaging." Library Journal, 6/1/11“A workmanlike biography; it adequately examines the balance between Olmsted’s public and private personae.” New York Journal of Books, 5/31/11 “A comprehensive journal of Frederick Law Olmsted’s life written with great precision and exhaustive historical specifications; but these elements do not get in the way of a well-told tale…Highly recommended.” Chew & Digest Books, 6/1/11
“One of the greatest things a biographer can do is not only cover that particular person’s life, but give us an idea of the time that he or she lived in…Martin does this in spades…Enlightening.” Barnes and Noble Review, 6/3/11Few men have written their signature across our public spaces as vividly, personally, and influentially as Olmsted…Justin Martin's first-ever full-scale biography reveals other fascinating sides of the famed landscape designer as well, including reformer and journalist.” Providence Journal, 6/5/11“Martin has done a fine job in presenting the life of a fascinating American.” Internet Review of Books, 6/6/11
“A welcome exception to the rule that biographies don’t make easy reading.” Boston Globe, 6/16/11“[A] wide-ranging, surprisingly revealing biography…Martin brings the Hartford-born Olmsted to life…An eye-opening, much-needed biography of a man whose work continues to inspire…Illuminating.”
The Daily,
“Rich and meticulously-researched, Justin Martin’s biography makes a convincing case for Olmsted as ‘The most important American historical figure that the average person knows the least about.’” Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 6/12/11“[A] fascinating new biography.” Rocky Mountain Land Library, 6/13/11“Olmsted designed more than thirty major city parks, the U.S. Capitol grounds, several university campuses, and many planned communities. But there’s much more to Olmsted’s life, as Justin Martin’s Genius of Place makes abundantly clear…A rich story of a remarkable life.” InfoDad, 6/16/11“Packed with information gleaned from primary sources…Will certainly captivate not only those interested in Olmsted as landscape architect but also people who want to know about early environmentalism and the conservationist movement—and the intricacies of creating open spaces in and near many of the nation’s great cities.” Corduroy Books, 6/16/11
“A riveting and great intro to a fascinating architect not just of American places but American ideas.” Portland Book Review (website), 6/17/11“A well written and easy to follow biography. Justin Martin does an excellent job helping to bring this figure to life.” Hudson Valley News, 6/15/11“A good (and surprising) read…An intimate portrait…A fine biography of a man who helped shape modern America.”, 6/5/11
“Martin reveals [Olmsted] not only as a brilliant landscape architect, but also as a dedicated Abolitionist, indulgent father, and fervent conservationist.”

Landscape Architecture magazine, July 2011
“Exhaustively researched and clearly written, this volume should become the standard for students of both history and design.” 

Seattle Times, 6/26/11“Absorbing…Lively…Olmsted's life story is fabulous biographical material, and Martin largely makes the most of it. In a brisk, unvarnished style, he artfully balances Olmsted's achievements with his personal limitations.”, 6/29/11“Fascinating.” E: The Environmental Magazine, July 2011Genius of Place offers more than the legacy of a man who accomplished ‘more than most people could in three lifetimes.’ Martin provides an intimate portrayal of man himself, whose life was both blessed with genius and plagued by tragedy.”, 7/10/11
“Provides a rich history of early America as well as the compelling life story of 19th century landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted…Rich with historical details of much of America's finest landscapes…A thoroughly enjoyable book.”

Charleston Post and Courier, 7/17/11
“Reading Genius of Place feels like listening to Olmsted's best friend dishing about the private life of a real person…Martin makes a convincing argument that Olmsted saw all of his work, from park-making to gold mining, as social reform. He points out the subtle ironies of Olmstead's life and provides historical and personal background without bogging the reader down or disrupting the flow of the narrative…Genius of Place is far more than a survey of Olmsted's creations. It's a tightly woven narrative that ties together his personal life, his many vocations and his impact on a turbulent era.”

The Dirt (the American Society of Landscape Architects blog), 7/27/11
“Illuminates Olmsted’s major achievements as a visionary artist, social reformer, pioneering environmentalist, and founder of the modern profession of landscape architecture…Does not disappoint in the totality of its coverage…[Martin’s] intriguing account of Olmsted’s life…captures the significance of his legacy.” (Canada), 7/25/11“In lush detail, Martin walks the reader through the chapters of Olmstead’s life…With the fine grain research skills of an experienced biographer, Martin succeeds in shining light on the combination of vision and accident, values and necessity that led to Olmstead’s career in landscape architecture.” Reference and Research Book News, August 2011
“Martin takes on the extraordinarily multifaceted life and career of the man known for his design of Central Park but whose legacy reaches far deeper and wider.”

Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/11
“Martin does an excellent job of tracing the development of this multitalented genius and—by the book’s end—makes a powerful case for Olmsted as a reformer who not only created some of the world’s most beautiful parkland but also helped to shape our lives and public spaces as we know them today.”

Sacramento Book Review, August 2011
“Not only a great portrait of the man, but a portrait of a period in American history.” Choice, October 2011
“[A] readable, chatty book…[This] biography succeeds in portraying a seminal character whose life strongly influenced the way people experience urban space in contemporary America.”

Flourish, Fall 2011
“[Martin’s] thorough original research in personal letters, journals and contemporary news articles slowly reveals pieces of Olmsted’s puzzling life. Martin painstakingly places Olmsted’s accomplishments in a detailed historical context…Well-written.”

Alaska Airlines Magazine, September 2011“[A] compelling biography.” Leaflet (e-newsletter of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society), September 2011“A page-turner of a biography, which follows the ascendancy of a man who follows one dream after another, leaving a tangible, enduring legacy for a nation.” Forest Hills Garden News, September 2011“A delightful 400 page read…[Martin] draws the reader into the rhythm of FLO’s various life stages, and what a journey it is…Genius of Place is able to make readers care as much about the play-by-play in FLO’s private life as the color commentary around his public roles—and this is no small feat.” Textscape blog, 8/30/11
”More forthright…about Olmsted the man than are some of the other more hagiographic biographies.” Architect, September 2011“Part exposé of the man, part history of Americans subduing the U.S. terra firma.” Landscape Architecture, October 2011“Unearths insights into the park maker’s troubled personal life as well as his roles as writer, social reformer, and unruly business collaborator.” Curled Up with a Good Book, 9/25/11
“Martin has a keen eye…Martin makes full use of a wealth of primary sources to bring life to his subject…To understand the man, of course, we must understand the times in which he lives. Martin incorporates the historical perspective so seamlessly that readers may not even be aware that they have been transported to 19th-century America…Olmsted’s life reveals itself as naturally as his designs, integrated with the setting and exposition of this outstanding biography.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/24/11
“Martin has succeeded brilliantly in bringing to detailed life the man he calls the greatest American most Americans have never heard of.”

The Dirt, 11/23/11
Named one of the “Best Books of 2011.” “Illuminates Olmsted’s major achievements as a visionary artist, social reformer, pioneering environmentalist, and founder of the modern profession of landscape architecture…Martin paints a portrait of Olmsted as a preeminent American figure, revealing that ‘as a park maker, environmentalist, and abolitionist, Olmsted helped shape modern America.’”

Acadiana Lifestyle, November 2011
“A long delayed tribute to an amazing American.”, 10/11/11Genius of Place has proved an unexpected and intriguing delight.  And make no mistake; Martin is a master craftsman of connecting his readers to his subject.  Olmsted’s life is painted in vibrant and articulate pages full of interest and sans a single paragraph of stuffiness.” Englewood Review of Books, 7/14/11“Deep research to expose the inner life of Olmsted combined with [Martin’s] engaging writing style.” January magazine, 12/18/11 “Best Books of 2011,” Biography category.
“Not only does Martin outline Olmsted’s impressive credentials as a designer, but also his less well known contributions as a champion for America’s parks, an essayist on the abolitionist movement and his work as an early environmentalist…Genius of Place is a very good biography of a man whose contributions to the beauty of the United States is incalculable.” Newport Mercury, 4/25/12“Paints a fascinating portrait of Olmsted.”Midwest Book Review, August 2012“From [Olmsted’s] stormy family relationships to his social and political impact on the country, Genius of Place provides a powerful survey.”

Smithsonian magazine’s Around the Mall blog, 12/11/12
“Olmsted did so many different things in life, that it’s like reading a history of the country to read about him.”

Louisville Courier-Journal, 12/7/12
“Olmsted’s intriguing personal saga of tremendous achievement and devastating tragedies are captured in the richly-detailed biography Genius of Place.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/18/13“Exhaustively researched.”

Customer Reviews

Explore More Items