From Publishers Weekly
Few architects have gained the level of professional achievement and popular notoriety of Frank Lloyd Wright, who's as famed for his bullheadedness, abuse of underlings, condescension to his clients and his numerous wives as he is for his indisputable masterpieces of American architecture. In their biography, Friedland and Zellman skim over the typical historiography and gleefully delve into Wright's secrets and scandals, focusing on the cultish atmosphere, the mystical teachings and especially, the sexual indiscretions at Taliesin, his studio-commune where he commanded a near-messianic following. There are no major revelations, but the narrative is riveting, endowing its historical characters with all the drama of contemporary tabloid celebrities. However, heavy reliance on the dusty and probably skewed memories of interviewees produces some anecdotes that sound more like exaggerated cocktail gossip than historic fact. Occasionally, the authors use awkward psychoanalysis to account for Wright's architectural practices, such as interpreting his prairie houses' lack of basements or attics as an attempt to erase the painful memories he suffered in those spaces as a child. While the book may appeal to those more curious about the man than his achievements, readers may find the focus on all the indiscretions at Taliesin underwhelming. (Sept. 1)
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Whatever visionary brilliance Frank Lloyd Wright possessed as an architect did not extend to his talent for structural engineering, nor, as this often-searing account shows, did he succeed at engineering human lives and souls. Wright was famously individualistic, stubborn, and egotistical. But that's only the beginning of the epic soap opera that roiled around him as Wright extended his franchise to two cultlike, communal encampments, in Wisconsin and Arizona, known as Taliesin (Welsh for "shining brow"). Aspiring architects, designers, and cultural misfits flocked to Wright, apprenticing more often as manual laborers than as draftsmen or creators. Wright's imperious style was matched by that of his third wife, Olgivanna, a disciple of George Gurdjieff, the Russian mystic whose sense of the spiritual content of cosmic forces echoed Wright's belief in the transformative power of nature. Friedland and Zellman's long but absorbing book paints an uneasy history of Taliesin, involving problematic sexual relationships, tax collectors, prima donnas, draft resisters, dancing angels, long-suffering clients, parental malpractice, and, not least, in its role as training ground, an astounding record of failure. Steve PaulCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved