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In a brilliant collaboration between writer and subject, the bestselling author of Home and City Life illuminates Frederick Law Olmsted's role as a major cultural figure and a man at the epicenter of nineteenth-century American history. We know Olmsted through the physical legacy of his stunning landscapes -- among them, New York's Central Park, California's Stanford University campus, Boston's Back Bay Fens, Illinois's Riverside community, Asheville's Biltmore Estate, and Louisville's park system. He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the United States, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country's first regional plans. Olmsted's contemporaries knew a man of even more extraordinarily diverse talents. Born in 1822, he traveled to China on a merchant ship at the age of twenty-one. He cofounded The Nation magazine and was an early voice against slavery. He wrote books about the South and about his exploration of the Texas frontier. He managed California's largest gold mine and, during the Civil War, served as general secretary to the United States Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross. Olmsted was both ruthlessly pragmatic and a visionary. To create Central Park, he managed thousands of employees who moved millions of cubic yards of stone and earth and planted over 300,000 trees and shrubs. In laying it out, "we determined to think of no results to be realized in less than forty years," he told his son, Rick. "I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future." To this day, Olmsted's ideas about people, nature, and society are expressed across the nation -- above all, in his parks, so essential to the civilized life of our cities. Rybczynski's passion for his subject and his understanding of Olmsted's immense complexity and accomplishments make this book a triumphant work. In A Clearing in the Distance, the story of a great nineteenth-century American becomes an intellectual adventure.
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CONTENTS ForewordSchemes1. "Tough as nails"2. Frederick goes to school3. Hartford4. "I have no objection"5. New York6. A year before the mast7. Friends8. Farming9. More Farming10. A walking tour in the old countryJostling and Being Jostled11. Mr. Downing's magazine12. Olmsted falls in love and finishes his book13. Charley Brace intervenes14. Yeoman15. A traveling companion16. The Texas settlers17. Yeoman makes a decision18. "Much the best Mag. in the world"19. AbroadHitting Heads20. A change in fortune21. The Colonel meets his match22. Mr. Vaux23. A brilliant solution24. A promotion25. Frederick and Mary26. Comptroller Green27. King Cotton28. A good big work29. Yeoman's war30. "Six months more pretty certainly"31. A letter from Dana32. Never happier33. Olmsted shortens sail34. A heavy sort of book35. Calvert Vaux doesn't take no for an answer36. Loose endsA Magnificent Opening37. Olmsted and Vaux plan a perfect park38. Metropolitan39. A stopover in Buffalo40. Thirty-nine thousand trees41. Best-laid plans42. Henry Hobson Richardson43. Olmsted's dilemma44. Alone45. "More interesting than nature"46. Olmsted in demand47. "I shall be free from it on the Ist of January"Standing First48. An arduous convalescence49. Fairstead50. The character of his business51. The sixth park52. Olmsted meets the Governor53. Olmsted and Vaux, together again54. "Make a small pleasure ground and gardens"55. Olmsted drives hard56. The fourth muse57. Dear Rick58. SunsetOlmsted's Distant EffectsDistant EffectsA Selected List of Olmsted ProjectsAcknowledgmentsNotesIndexIllustration and Photograph Credits
Frances FitzGerald A sensitive, engrossing biography of Frederick Law Olmsted: one of the most evocative and multifaceted men of the American nineteenth century, whose works still live and breathe among us.
Stanley Weintraub The Wall Street Journal Mr. Rybczynski meshes what is close to a history of urban landscape architecture in America in the nineteenth century with a life of Olmsted. By doing so, he has produced a biography that communicates, with feeling, the ups and downs of Olmsted's career as well as of the profession he helped to invent....A book that defines and evokes Olmsted as an American original.
Suzannah LessardThe New York Times Book ReviewExcellent...thorough and respectful, yet easeful in a way that is reminiscent of Olmsted himself.