2015: Genius of Place

“On March 25, 1893, a gala dinner was held in honor of Daniel Turnham, driving force behind the Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair about to open in Chicago.”

Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, Justin Martin

I bought this book at the Olmsted house National Historic Site (which is great, and is just in Brookline, and you should all go), after having seen Olmsted’s late in life home/workshop, and deciding I wanted to know more about him.  And you should too! Frederick Law Olmstead (Hereinafter FLO), was an amazing person - he absolutely changed this country, and for the better, too.  He was an author, he headed up the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War - but of course, what he is most known for is being the father of Landscape Architecture in this country. Simply put, he had his hand on just about every famous park in this country.  He started, of course, with Central Park.  He and his associate, Calvin Vaux, won the competition to design the park, and made it the amazing place it is today.  After that, he went on to be involved with just about everything - Stanford University, Biltmore, the Emerald Necklace, etc. etc.  He changed the game - before Olmsted there wasn’t even a profession of designing landscapes in this country (or much history of preserving green space at all).  He was pretty amazing.

Now the book itself, well, it’s fine.  It was the only bio offered at the NPS site, so I bought it, but the writing is pretty pedestrian.  It seems like someone as important as Olmsted deserved a big fat 700 page bio with all the details - a Ron Chernow, a David McCullough.  Justin Martin did a fine job - all the facts are there, but the book was a pretty easy high level read.  It didn’t engage me the way that the best bios do - it just plodded along, telling FLO’s life story.  I think FLO deserves better - but if you want to learn about an incredible American, you might read this anyway.  FLO is interesting enough that the basic nature of the storytelling doesn’t really matter. 

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017