Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: A Clearing in the Distance

A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century
Witold Rybczynski

A pleasant, straightforward, clear biography--which, in those respects, is not unlike its subject. Rybczynski is himself an urbanist of note, and he does a good job of explaining what Olmsted did, what he was trying to achieve, and why it mattered (and continues to matter). For me, the most surprising thing is that Olmsted as a young man was one of those people who drifts from project to project, relying on a well-to-do and indulgent father; he became a landscape architect, and the designer of Central Park, more on the strength of his pleasant personality and social connections than for any tangible accomplishments to that point ... and he was in his mid-30s!

The book does have a goodly number of photographs and illustrations. It would be greatly improved if they were in color, but they do at least illustrate what Rybczynski is talking about. Still, to fully appreciate his points, I think you'd have to visit at least some of the sites.

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