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Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) Hardcover – May 31, 2011


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Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) + Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape + A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century
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Product Details

  • Series: A Merloyd Lawrence Book
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 2nd Printing edition (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818813
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

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.”

Niagara
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, 6/3/11
Few 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,
6/12/11
“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.”
 
WomanAroundTown.com, 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.”
 
Examiner.com, 6/29/11
“Fascinating.”
 
E: The Environmental Magazine, July 2011
Genius 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.”
 
Blogcritics.org, 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.”

GreenBookReviews.ca (Canada), 7/25/11

About the Author

Justin Martin, author of highly praised biographies of Alan Greenspan and Ralph Nader, lives in Forest Hills Gardens, New York, an enclave of New York City designed by Olmsted's son.

More About the Author

Justin Martin is author of the upcoming Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America's First Bohemians (September, Da Capo Press). Earlier efforts includes biographies of pioneering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, and Ralph Nader, the noted consumer advocate. Martin's articles have appeared in a variety of publications including the New York Times, Newsweek, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Martin is a 1987 graduate of Rice University in Houston, Texas. He lives with his wife and twin sons in Forest Hills Gardens, New York, a landmark neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. In his spare time, Martin runs marathons (he's completed seven) and gardens (he's grown some great tomatoes, but his experiments in urban corn-growing have so far failed).

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 42 customer reviews
The book is extremely well written and a true pleasure to read.
Richard C. Lowry
Martin does an incredible job of balancing Olmstead's personal and professional life that gives us an incredible picture of an amazing man.
Buddhagem
Growing up in New York, I knew about Olmsted's role in designing Central Park as well as many parks in urban areas in upstate NY.
Greg W. Schafer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Helen H. Moore on May 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I just completed Genius of Place by Justin Martin and wanted to sing its praises. The story of the park's creation is presented in fascinating detail, everything from the design contest won by Olmsted and his talented partner, architect Calvert Vaux, in 1858, to the creation of such landmarks as the Bow Bridge and Bethesda Terrace, to cool facts like that it required more gunpowder than was used at Gettysburg to create this naturalistic masterpiece.

Olmsted was a man blessed with enormous energy and many talents. Before creating Central Park, he was one of the first writers for the New York Times. His beat? Traveling through the South to report on the conditions of slaves, which lead him to become an impassioned abolitionist. He was also a goldmine supervisor and Civil War hero, who oversaw a medical outfit that saved thousands of soldiers lives. In addition, he fought hard to preserve essential American landscapes including Yosemite and Niagara Falls.

Olmsted experienced much tragedy in his life: He nearly died following a horse and buggy crash and lost his beloved brother and 3 children. Something I really liked about the book was the Martin interspersed details about Olmsted's life with descriptions of his park creations, so you always get the personal context for his artistic creations. Through it all, this great man persevered to become one of the most important figures of the 19th century and arguably the most influential landscape architect of all time. If you love New York's Central Park or Prospect Park, or any of Olmsted's numerous other works spread out all over the country, you'll enjoy this beautifully written, remarkable book. It will change the way you see these incredible places.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Greg W. Schafer on May 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Growing up in New York, I knew about Olmsted's role in designing Central Park as well as many parks in urban areas in upstate NY. That being said, I was always curious about a sublime overlook in Yosemite NP named Olmsted Point. My curiosity was satisfied and when I was able to read an advance copy of Justin Martin's new, insightful autobiography of Frederick Law Olmsted and learned the important role Olmsted played in preserving Yosemite and other national parks. I was surprised to learn that Olmsted was far more than a landscape designer and conversationalist, but was also important in shaping social change leading up to the Civil War. He was so prolific as a park designer, he not only designed the park I played in as a child in Rochester, New York but also designed a park my son now plays in Oakland, CA.
It's about time a well-researched and proper tribute was written for Olmsted to whom we owe so much and without whom so much would have been lost. Thank you Mr. Martin.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie C Davies on May 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Genius of Place" is an enjoyable and intriguing biography about Frederick Law Olmsted, the man behind all these amazing parks like Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace. Beyond his most famous landscape architectural works, though, it was also fascinating to learn about the other sides of Olmsted, that he was also a journalist, an abolitionist, and headed up a Civil War medical unit.

This book is really well written; Justin Martin's style is so accessible and fun to read. I loved diving into important American history that wasn't so familiar.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By CatFred on August 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a New Yorker, I thought I was familiar with Frederick Law Olmsted from his work on Central Park and Prospect Park. Then I read Justin Martin's gripping new biography -- and was stunned by the extent of Olmsted's accomplishments and the impact he had (and continues to have) not just on American landscapes but on our social and political history.

Olmsted wasn't an easy man to like -- he was prickly, opinionated and didn't hesitate to inflict his gripes on others -- but Justin Martin makes his story easy to enjoy. Martin is sympathetic to his main character without being sycophantic, and makes us sympathize with the many triumphs and tragedies of Olmsted's life. He always finds the telling quote that explains why Olmsted was both celebrated and criticized.

But even more, he reveals -- and helps us discover -- the thought and philosophy behind Olmsted-designed parks, no matter how big or small. As a result, I walk through Central Park with an entirely different consciousness and appreciation of its gifts -- and that alone is makes this book worth reading.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Aimi Lee on September 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a remarkable man! I first heard of him in "Devil in the White City" by Eric Larson. Then I heard a review of the book on public radio. The book is so well written that the reader is awe-struck with his remarable genius and energy and eager to learn what he will get into next. He had fore-sight and stood his ground on what he believed in. If he lived today he would probably qualify for a disability check and he could sit home and update his facebook. Wouldn't that be a waste of a wonderful talent. As a student of today he would probably be kicked out of school as a trouble maker instead of having his unique learning style and creative genius being recognized by most educators. He was lucky to have a father that adored him and could afford to support him until he found his niche. America benefited greatly from his efforts.
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