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Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America's Gilded Age Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this unsatisfying overview, Broderick looks at one of the leading architectural firms in turn-of-the-20th-century America. Redefining the American aesthetic, McKim, Mead & White put its stamp on Boston, Baltimore, and Newport, and most particularly New York, where it built NYU's and Columbia's libraries, the second Madison Square Garden, and the original Pennsylvania Station. High-minded Charles McKim brought American architecture up to European standards, but his personal life was overshadowed by a messy divorce and tragedy in his second marriage. Well-born William Mead was the sober, hard-working partner who shepherded the firm to success. Poorly educated Stanford White became more a celebrity decorator than an architect and was murdered by a madman obsessed with White's mistress. NYU architectural historian Broderick (The Villard Houses) is too dry for a general audience in discussing the firm's architectural masterpieces, while she shies away from a deep look at the men behind them: she chooses, for instance, not to focus on the firm's bisexual atmosphere. General readers interested in either a popular study of the great architectural firm or in the "scandal" and "class" of the subtitle will be disappointed. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* The group of three—Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White—that architectural historian Broderick portrays in this great, rambling mansion of a book sought to boost American architecture up to European standards. McKim’s decision to become an architect seemed “impulsive,” yet he quickly developed a knack for attracting clients and planning projects. Artist White proved to be a gifted designer with a flair for interiors and a mania for antiquities. Pragmatic Mead took care of the firm’s business side and lived a quiet, diligent life, taking up little space in this otherwise torrid Gilded Age saga. McKim suffered cruel personal losses and was plagued with depression yet triumphed to become the “serene dean” of architecture. White is the maelstrom, and Broderick avidly tracks every step of his extravagant and self-destructive reel of hard work, harder partying, and illicit schemes right up to his notorious murder. Broderick also tells the stories of the firm’s epoch-defining, technologically progressive creations, profiling their colorful, prominent clients and fully delineating diverse projects, from seaside chateaus to Madison Square Garden, the Boston Public Library, and a host of other iconic, if short-lived buildings. For all its heft and exactitude, this is a scintillating record of the complex lives and accomplishments of three adventurous architects who created American grandeur. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394536622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394536620
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mercutio on December 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Triumvirate is a refreshing read, a book that beautifully and expertly merges astute analysis with a great gift for telling the story. The author's deep understanding and acute sense of the period she covers make for a perceptive and intelligent study that brings to life the era and lives of architects and clients. Presenting a huge deal of original research, the author vividly complements and fleshes out the previously known fragments of the story of the firm's principals. The writer shows the importance of the firm's first chief designer, Joseph M. Wells, in establishing, at a young age, MM&W as a firm of the first rank. All the recollections of the era, including McKim and Mead's own words, reinforce that Wells was a short-lived genius. Triumvirate also puts the Newport story into a fresh historical perspective -- another splendid example of the author's in depth research. The role of J.G. Bennett, his properties, and the development of the Casino, comes to mind as only one of many insightful new additions to the original, skimpy tale. The writer's extraordinary ability to sketch true portraits instead of cut out figures of the story's main protagonists reveals the underlying dynamics and gives life to a new and full reading of the firm.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Duncan Berry on May 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was delighted to see this title announced and waited eagerly for its arrival. Sadly, I had to put it down for good (after a few angry starts) about half of the way through -- I could no longer endure the combination of the author's fundamental ignorance about architectural anatomy (for instance, the increasingly irritating and predictable confusion of gable and hip roof), her glib recycling of clichés parading as interpretation (i.e., the repetitive use of a shallow interpretation of Joe Wells' temperament), the endless genealogical client trivia that yields nothing for an enhanced understanding of the firm, its services and its architecture, and finally, for the almost laughably puerile scholarship.

That's the bad news. Here's the good news -- Paul Baker's 1989 biography of Stanford White remains as fresh, as granular and as vivid now as it was when first released. Combined with Leland Roth's rock-solid interpretation of the firm's growth and significance, you will miss NOTHING from Broderick's book. In fact, you will take a pleasurable course that avoids her errors, her paper-thin grasp of the subject matter, and the social-history-trivial-pursuits approach to the history of architecture.

Thanks to Amazon, and the passage of a few years, treat yourself to used copies of the glorious, large format coffee-table books on White, the firm's Masterworks and Houses and you will be up-to-speed in less time than slogging through this grammatical dumpster of irritating, pseudo-relevant factoids.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By James B. Garrison on November 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is unquestionably an authority on McKim, Mead & White. This book attempts to create a context for their work, and in some ways succeeds, but is also held back by an uneven tone. The personal lives of the two major principals are well known and there is only a little new information. What is curious is the constant demotion of McKim and White, while Mead may finally get his due as the anchor for the firm, and the younger members, especially Joseph Wells are awarded credit for the best work of the office. Why does the author use so many pages to write an alternate view from Sam White's, Wilson's and Roth's book about the same firm, yet have a sense of ambivalence about their accomplishments? The technical qualities of the buildings are praised, yet the reliance on source books such as Letarouilly is criticized. It's like hearing Louis Sullivan's condemnation of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair all over again. It is interesting for the attempt to give context to the state of architectural practice at the turn of the century. There are several important observations about how the firm made fundamental strides in the professionalization of architecture.

Finally, there are certain editing slips that become annoying over the course of the book. Clients, colleagues and peers are sometimes referred to by their formal names, other times by variations on familiar first names, like these persons are our best friends. Some of the background stories could have stayed in the background so the larger points could be made. Lastly, "Sienna" is a made up word for a Toyota minivan, the Italian marble is "Siena"!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By James Hellyer on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book "Triumverate" is a sterling example of a writer who has done massive homework and research on a subject; yet, manages to totally miss what a dazzling story all of their research has revealed. Ms. Broderick has done her due diligence in providing us with dates, names and places; but, somehow her rendition only amounts to a flat, one dimensional view into the incredibly prolific world of McKim Mead and White. It is a lifeless presentation that lacks any sense of the magic that infused the times of Gilded Age, or the role McKim Mead and White played in it.

There are several aspects of this story that either failed to fire up Miss Broderick's sense of wonder for the subject; or, perhaps she simply does not have the insight to understand the incredible story availed of her fastidious research. It is clear from her inert descriptions of various McKim Mead and White designs that she lacks much passion or understanding for architecture. The paucity of and poor selection of photographs of the firm's work is further evidence of her limited grasp on the subject. She also lacks much genuine appreciation for the staggering amount of superlative creations that were issued from the McKim Mead and White office.

If anything, the author is continuously marginalizing each architect's contribution to their various signature projects by always inferring the heavy lifting was either the mirage of a direct copy or done by some lone plodding draftsman in their office. Miss Broderick also appeared tone deaf to the nature of male to male relationships during the late Victorian to Edwardian eras. Without a shred of evidence she seemed too eager to insinuate otherwise innocent camaraderie as direct evidence of gay behavior. One wonders if Ms.
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