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American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park to Our Backyards: What Our Gardens Tell Us About Who We Are Hardcover – April 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From Jefferson's founding garden, Monticello, to Martha Stewart's Turkey Hill, American gardens have been revealing self-portraits that reflect their owners aspirations and anxieties, cultural legacies and passing fashions. In his far-ranging survey, designer and historian Graham unveils the aesthetic, political, psychological, and ethical dimensions of the American garden. This is a world in which hedges, lawns, parks, and cemeteries are revealing displays of national identity, class distinction, and political correctness. Our gardens are a pastiche of classical pastoral ideals, the 19th-century European grand tour, and the distinctly American tension between our democratic ideals and aristocratic pretensions. Graham is able to gently mock the fashions of history while astutely observing that we are still as vulnerable to gardening fads today. After more than 250 years, the American gardening tradition has bequeathed to us treasured public parks, suburban sprawl, Kentucky bluegrass lawns in the desert, and kitchen gardens at the White House. Graham's history is a fascinating and illuminating tour of this American landscape. Includes extensive notes and bibliography. More than 70 color and b&w illus. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Garden designer and historian Graham takes a panoramic perspective in his bold interpretation of the form, function, and meaning of American gardens. Thomas Jefferson is the first, and most complex, of the many pioneering gardeners Graham incisively profiles, and Graham’s frank dissection of the profound paradoxes implicit in Jefferson’s landscape vision for Monticello in a time of slavery and genocide against Native Americans sets the groundwork for his central insight, the fact that wilderness was a catalyst for the American imagination even as we rapidly destroyed it. Other intriguing garden designers include the nineteenth-century advocates for middle-class gardens as “emblems of virtue” A. J. Downing and Charles Platt, and their heir, the ever-ambitious Martha Stewart, as well as Beatrix Jones Farrand, Jens Jensen, and Lawrence Halprin. As Graham unwinds the DNA of American garden design from grandiose to utilitarian, he matches garden aesthetics with the social mores of each era to surprising effect. His discussion of the pastoral dream underlying suburban sprawl is of particular resonance, and his comparisons between Eastern and Western gardens are fascinating. This blazingly fresh, critical, and ecologically astute masterwork brilliantly traces the great cycles of American life through a spectrum of gardens that embody our devotion to the art of cultivation for beauty and status, sanctuary and sustenance. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061583421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061583421
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #737,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Wade Graham is a Los Angeles-based garden designer, historian, and writer whose work on the environment, landscape, urbanism, and the arts has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, the Los Angeles Times, Outside, and other publications. He received a BA in comparative literature from Columbia University, and an MA and PhD in U.S. history at UCLA. He teaches urban and environmental policy at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. Since 1999, he has been a trustee of Glen Canyon Institute, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, dedicated to restoring the canyons of the Colorado River, and editor of Hidden Passage, the Journal of Glen Canyon Institute.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Addison Dewitt on March 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Wade Graham's "American Eden" has a wonderful premise: What our gardens tell us about who we are. The book is more a history of American gardens seen somewhat through that lens, but mostly seen through the lens of the upper class' residential landscapes and public spaces, where big money buys grandeur.

The book is decently written and (in it's final form) will be a valuable and colorful guide to anyone interested in the history of landscaping in this country. Note that I did not use the word "gardening" as most of the individuals noted in the book (Roosevelt, Mary Pickford, Vanderbilts, Edith Wharton, Thomas Jefferson, Martha Stewart, et al) did not actually sully their hands in the drudgery of setting up the landscape, so it's not gardening in the real sense of the word. When I say gardening, it means that I am the gardener, do the work and later get the firsthand pleasure of my efforts. Instead, Graham's lineup of who's-who skip the middle part and employ landscape design firms to flesh out their grand schemes. While this particular fact does not stain the premise of the book entirely, it also does not fulfill it. Trying to use Graham's yardstick to measure what my 1 acre yard's flora tells me about myself would be fruitless.

In any regard, the book is finely researched and not only are photographs shown of various gardens, but the actual plans in many cases are also rendered in order to help those who delve into such things. This paperback version's stock (a pulpy newsprint) is not the best and therefore many of the black and white details of the visuals were absorbed by it. Hopefully the final version will have a coated stock and color photos.

OK, so what was I really hoping for?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Falk on April 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wade Graham's "American Eden" is a terrific read and I highly recommend it. I enjoy books on gardening, architecture and material culture generally, but very often find that such books are either too insubstantial and insufficiently researched or very much too academic. Graham's book is plenty rigorous: if you are someone who has already done some study on the thought and writing of Thomas Jefferson, for example, I think you will find something new and provocative in Graham's writing. By the same token, this is not one of those books that should only be read in a graduate seminar. The writing is really lively and engaging, and presupposes no particular background in the topic. Although the subject is gardening, it is simply a fresh and solid take on American history.

This book would make a very fun gift. The focus and length of the writing definitely invites a more casual reader. And the book itself is really good looking, well laid out and in a bit wider format than most, which makes it very attractive.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By LA VINE VOICE on February 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really enjoyed American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park: What Our Gardens Tell Us About Who We Are. The worst thing about it is the incredibly long title. (I wonder if this is a new publishing trend.)

Wade Graham has done an incredible job of researching this topic. As far as I know, this is the first book of its kind. It is well-written, fascinating, and includes great illustrations.

Graham begins his analysis with information on America's first gardens in the 17th century and ends with pastoral urbanism in 2010. In between you'll find solid research on Thomas Jefferson, the Gilded Age, Frederick Olmsted, Arts and Crafts, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hollywood, Landscape Architecture, Martha Stewart, and more. Each era in America has influenced gardening and gardens, and the gardeners and gardens have influenced America. It's a book packed with brilliant, important ideas, and I found myself underlining and reading aloud many passages.

This book will be enjoyed by those who enjoy American Studies, gardening, social history, architecture, landscaping, and history. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Steinberg on April 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a fascinating subject which offers real possibilities, and it's a pity that Graham doesn't really rise to them. I found the writing and the structure needlessly complex; the book could have benefited from a more aggressive editing. More unfortunate, the larger historical background is not as well thought through as it could have been. The framework is the stuff of first-year Western Civ classes, perennially rising middle classes and all, and when the author steps out of his own areas of expertise he makes surprising missteps. (For example, the poems of Ovid and Horace weren't lost during the Middle Ages and retrieved from the Arabs; Washington Irving didn't live in Sleepy Hollow--the town took that name in 1996.) And I wonder about one of Graham's major themes. He argues (especially in the earlier sections) that the gardens of such people as Thomas Jefferson obscured the contradictions in their own lives. But isn't this what gardens are supposed to do? A garden is where incompatibles meet--nature and culture, rational and organic order, even the divine and the worldly--it's not for nothing that the image of the garden runs all through Medieval literature. Their double character is precisely what makes their harmonies so absorbing. Gardens are places of release, most of all from our self-imposed contradictions, and those contradictions are always behind and beneath their beauty and give that beauty its essential note of sadness. It may be easier to see this in the case of our forbears, but it's surely just as true of our own gardening.
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