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Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape Hardcover – November 2, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson
"The Black Presidency"
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Editorial Reviews


A "fascinating history of monuments in the nation's capital...Savage deftly handles the multiple threads of this historical transformation." --Philip Kennicott, New Republic

"Thoroughly enlightening....Savage's analytical powers are as taut as his storytelling." --Richard Robbins, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

--Michael A Elliott, Religion Dispatches

"should have been a finalist for this year's general non-fiction Pulitzer Prize..."
--Barbara Groseclose, CAA Reviews

“Superb study of monumental Washington”
(Washington Post Book World 2009-11-08)

“A fascinating book.”
(H-Net Reviews 2010-04-01)

“The book will make you go back to the National Mall, but you'll never again see it in quite the same light. “
(Washington Post Book World 2009-12-13)

“An indispensable guide to the National Mall.”
(Public Art Review 2010-07-01)

"A fascinating chronicle of the heart of America's national imaginary, the National Mall in Washington DC . . . a must read."
(Pia Wiegmink Amerikastudien 2011-12-01)

From the Inside Flap

“An exceptional book, Monument Wars is impressive in just about every way. It is an indispensable guide to the National Mall and establishes Savage as one of the foremost historians of American art now working.”—Alexander Nemerov, Yale University

Monument Wars is the best single work I've read on the idea of the 'monument' in American culture, the best single analysis and history of Washington's shrines. In his rich and riveting analyses of the Washington Mall, Kirk Savage brilliantly re-animates its monuments with the stories of their often fraught and contentious origins. This is also a philosophical treatise on the paradox of lively American democratic ideals as they find fixed form in stone and mortar. Monument Wars is an outstanding achievement.”—James E. Young, author of The Texture of Memory and At Memory's Edge

“No one does art history and the history of memory as sublimely as Kirk Savage. In this book of extraordinary research and widely accessible prose, Savage brilliantly shows how America's most sacred and visible public space has evolved. He also demonstrates how the Washington Mall has become, for Americans, the preeminent space where the very idea of a monument has constantly changed. And above all, Savage writes with deep sensitivity about the sometimes tortured, always fascinating politics of national memory. The Mall appears monumentally fixed. But after reading Savage, no one will be able to gaze upon its stunning vistas without realizing that it is a turbulent, unsteady story of how a republic memorializes itself.”—David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

“Kirk Savage maps Washington's ubiquitous monuments within the symbolic cityscape fashioned by the city's planners and rulers, creating a luminous, insightful record of our national political enthusiasms and obsessions. At once an art history of monuments and a landscape history of political theater, Monument Wars is a worthy successor to Savage's classic Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves.”—Dell Upton, University of California, Los Angeles

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (November 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520256549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520256545
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 7.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I began writing on public monuments and public space in the U.S. as a free-lance author in the early 1980s. My first publication was a piece in the West Coast literary magazine Threepenny Review on the controversy surrounding Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Since then I've gotten a steady job in academia, but my passion for the subject has remained as strong as ever.

My first book, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America, won the John Hope Franklin Prize for best book published in American Studies in 1998. My most recent book, Monument Wars, returns to the subject of my first free-lance projects 25 years ago, Washington, D.C.

I continue to write for general audiences on why we erect monuments and what they mean to us, most recently in the Washington Post. My editorial in the Post on Memorial Day weekend 2009 weighed in on the controversy over the Presidential wreath-laying tradition at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery. I suggested that President Obama send a second wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial in the District, and on Sunday morning a wreath from the White House unexpectedly appeared!

I am now a professor and department chair in the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Well researched, well written, well illustrated _ though only in black and white, this book deals with the history of Washington's Mall and its monuments.

The author convincingly explains that the Mall that exists today is the product of the City Beautiful movement and not, as is often claimed, of Charles L'Enfant's original 18th century plan for the new capital of the United States.

In the first part of the book, the emphasis is placed on urban history. A shift occurs in mid-20th century towards a discussion restricted to monuments, very little reference being made to the various museums and institutional buildings added to the Mall in the past 75 years.

Still, this superb work is highly recommended to all those interested in urban planning and Washington in particular.
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The author Kirk Savage has written a detailed historical book that not only describes the planning and construction of Washington D.C. monuments but also discusses the actual original planning of the city. Any potential reader should be aware that this book is presented (whether the author intended to or not) almost exactly like a high school or college text book. If you're looking for a breezy reading experience this is not the book for you. That does not mean that there aren't utterly amazing facts about American monuments that most people wouldn't even think about... facts such as these are abundant throughout the book... but... you really have to "work" to get them. At times the book seems to be (and may very well have been) geared for architects and engineers... because after all... the author is Professor and Chair of the Department of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. Personally, I didn't know that when I ordered the book. The early going was extremely hard for an average layman reader (non-engineer-non-architect) like me to persevere through the voluminous discussions regarding the Washington Monument. "Spatial terminology"... "visual cues"... "haptic" experience... et al... along with more information regarding obelisk's than an average person would encounter in a lifetime.

If a layman decides to persevere there are many interesting discussions regarding monuments such as Grant's Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial... and as an honorably discharged Vietnam Veteran... the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was of utmost interest to me. What is also thought provoking is the battle in early America against any monuments at all...
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It took me so long to find this book. None of the libraries in my area had it on the shelf. Thank you for having it for my sister to learn about her next position.
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This book had been on my reading list since it was reviewed back in early 2009. I can say now that after a five year wait, it's a worthwhile read. Mr. Savage has certainly done his homework, and his central thesis is well-defined and intriguing. For anyone who has ever visited Washington, and the National Mall, this book is an invaluable history of how the landscape (both literally and the figurative "memorial landscape") came to be.
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