41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
An Essential Book,
This review is from: The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship (Hardcover)
This is one of the most engaging non-fiction books I've read in the last few years. The reviewer who said that it combines the joys of People magazine and scholarship definitely has a point. The story of Wright's fellowship is wonderfully peculiar, amazing, and sad. I came to the book with some knowledge of Wright (I've been to both Taliesins and have visited a number of his other buildings) and a strong interest in 20th century American cultural history. But Wright's always been a puzzle. He was a great genius, but his roofs leaked. His architecture (to me, anyway) is infinitely more appealing than that of the International Style, but somehow became an also-ran. No strong proteges ever emerged to carry the torch.
This book certainly provides many clues to the puzzles of Wright. For one thing, it places him in the context of his culture. For example, I had no idea of the strong influence the occultist Georgi Gurdjieff had on Wright and especially his wife Olgivanna. And while I'd always heard that Taliesen was something of a "cult of personality," well, it was more than that -- it was pretty much a cult in the literal sense. Wright and his family occupied an almost godly position, and the "apprentices" slaved away uncompensated and bent to the Wright's every whim or were asked to leave.
One negative review complained that contradictory descriptons of Wright's behavior indicate that that the book is full of falsehoods. I take the opposite tack. I think the book draws a very believable portrait of a contradictory man. Wright is shown as a homophobe who nonetheless tolerated and treasured numerous homosexuals in his inner circle and an anti-Semite with many Jewish followers. Both are quite believable, partly because Wright had no interest in (and was not capable of) being consistent and because both prejudices were absolutely normal in early and mid-century America. I also have little trouble understanding that the great champion of a Democratic architecture could be at times both a fascist and communist sympathizer. He was a great elitist, and the sort of thinker who elevates Mankind in the abstract but has little sympathy for ordinary humans.
It's fun and illuminating to see Wright and Olgivanna take the measure of other 20th century luminaries -- Olgivanna dismissed "Atlas Shrugged" as "slush." And it's also fun to see how Wright, a stunningly imperious soul, could be intimidated by other even more imperious types -- especially if they were connected to money.
In truth, Wright emerges from this book as something of a monster, or as Gurdjieff put it, "an idiot." But anyone who knows anything about Wright's life already suspected that. What redeems him is the fact that he really was a genius, just as he always insisted.
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Initial post: Mar 7, 2012 5:58:52 PM PST
Fred McGhee says:
In addition to being a homophobe and anti-semite, Wright was also more than a casual racist, as the book makes clear. His cousin's editorship of the Tulsa Tribune and role in fostering the infamous Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 is also discussed by the authors.
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