Park Maker: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Transaction Publishers
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On April 28, 1858, municipal officials announced the winner of the design contest for a great new park for the people of New York City--Plan no. 33, "Greensward" by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Though the appropriated ground for what was to become Central Park was nothing more than a barren expanse occupied by squatters, in a matter of a few years, Olmsted turned the wasteland into a landscape of coherence, elegance, and beauty. It not only surpassed the design ingenuity of its existing European counterparts but gained the designer national acclaim in a profession that still lacked a name.

Olmsted was an American visionary. He foresaw the day when New York and many other growing cities of the mid-nineteenth century would be plagued by what we presently term "urban sprawl." And he was convinced of the critical importance of adapting land for the recreational and contemplative needs of city dwellers before the last remnants of natural terrain were engulfed by "monotonous, straight streets and piles of erect, angular buildings." As a result of his early efforts to revolutionize the design of public parks, many cities today are able to preserve the recreational space and greenery within their urban limits. In addition, his thoughts and words on wilderness areas still echo across a century of preservation in the wild.

This lively and insightful account of his prodigious life features many of his outstanding landscape projects, including the Biltmore Estate, Prospect Park (Brooklyn), the capitol grounds in Washington, DC, the Boston Park System, the Chicago parks and the Chicago World Fair, as well as measures to preserve the natural settings at Niagara Falls, Yosemite, and the Adirondacks. It traces his early years and describes events that were to form his artistic, intellectual, and deeply humanistic sensibilities. And it restores this lost American hero to his prominent place in history. In addition to being the acknowledged father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted helped shape the political and philosophical climate of America in his own time and today.

Elizabeth Stevenson is the author of the Bancroft Award-winning Henry Adams: A Biography; The Glass Lark, a biography of Lafcadio Hearn; and Babbitts and Bohemians: From the Great War to the Great Depression, all available from Transaction.
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Transaction Publishers
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Dec 31, 1977
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Architecture / Individual Architects & Firms / General
Biography & Autobiography / Artists, Architects, Photographers
Biography & Autobiography / Social Scientists & Psychologists
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"Figures in a Western Landscape is an absolutely stunning book. A biographer's take on the story of the American West, it posits that the turns of history are based on people-major 'figures' who shape their time and place. In her sequence of biographical essays, Elizabeth Stevenson tells the story of the northern Rockies and, in particular, Montana, a state of mind even more than it is a state of the Union. As her readers have come to expect, she offers more than a mere recounting of events. Stevenson captures the humanity of her subjects." -Charles Little, author of Louis Bromfield at Malabar and Greenways for America

The northern Rocky Mountains and adjacent high plains were the last American West. Here was the final enactment of our national drama-the last explorations, the final battles of the Indian wars, the closing of the frontier. In Figures in a Western Landscape, award-winning biographer Elizabeth Stevenson humanizes the history of the region with a procession of individual lives moving across generations. Each of the sixteen men and women depicted left behind his or her own unique written record or oral history. The stories they have bequeathed are rich in revealing anecdote and colorful detail. Among them: Meriwether Lewis, America's "most introspective explorer," John Kirk Townsend, known to the Chinooks as "the bird chief," Pretty-Shield, wife of the Crow scout who warned Custer to turn back at Little Big Horn, James and Granville Stuart, early settlers lured by rumors of gold in the 1850s.

In a concluding chapter, Stevenson draws on previously unpublished material to reveal new information about Martha Jane Cannary Burke, better known as Calamity Jane, the woman who could ride, shoot, and drive a mule team as well as any man (but who once failed to "pass" because she didn't cuss her mules like one). She lies buried in Deadwood, South Dakota, next to the man some said was her husband, Wild Bill Hickok.

These and other men and women whose stories Stevenson tells helped to shape, and were in turn shaped by, the uniquely challenging landscape of America's "last West." Their words and actions, here rediscovered, give vivid color to a climactic chapter in American history. This book will be of interest to historians and general readers interested in the people of the American West.

Elizabeth Stevenson (1919-1999) was Candler Professor of American Studies, Emeritus, at Emory University and the author of the Bancroft Award-winning Henry Adams: A Biography; The Grass Lark: A Study of Lafcadio Hearn; Babbits and Bohemians: From the Great War to the Depression; Henry James: The Crooked Corridor, and Park Maker: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, published by Transaction.
His great grandfather and his grandfather had been presidents of the United States, and to a small boy this seemed a matter of course in his family. But Henry Adams, belonging to a later generation, coming to maturity at the time of the Civil War, found himself in an age uncongenial to the leadership of such men as his ancestors. In the changing world of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Adams found his rightful place as an observer and critic rather than a participant in public life. But no time and no country ever had a keener mind to take note of the comic and tragic qualities embedded in the political, economic, and human drama upon which he gazed. And his writings appeal timelessly in their incisive wit, their warm charm, and in the way they speak to us of a very individual personality. When Stevenson's book first appeared, the New York Times called it "One of the noteable biographies of recent years," and it won the Bancroft Prize that year. It remains an engrossing portrait of a remarkable man.

It is good to take note of the sage he became in his late, great books: Mont-St. Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams. This biography explains how Henry Adams became the man both admired and feared in his later years. He was first a bright, unformed young man who was a diplomatic assistant to his father; then an ambitious journalist, a writer of several "sensational" newspaper and magazine articles. Next he became a provocative and innovative teacher, and a historian unequalled in his presentation of the Jeffersonian period. Until his wife's tragic death, he was a willing actor on the social scene of his beloved Washington, D.C. Throughout, he remained a friend and instigator of the careers of friends in artistic and scientific fields. His writings speak to us still and seem contemporary in their tone as well as their view of cycles of culture and their warnings of decline and achievement.

A New York Times Bestseller

Foreword by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics

When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty--and impress his professors with his boldness. He never imagined that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JT’s protection. From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peace with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang’s complex hierarchical structure. Examining the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, and often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone, Gang Leader for a Day also tells the story of the complicated friendship that develops between Venkatesh and JT--two young and ambitious men a universe apart.

"Riveting."--The New York Times

"Compelling... dramatic... Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand."--Newsweek

"An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city."--Chicago Tribune

"The achievement of Gang Leader for a Day is to give the dry statistics a raw, beating heart."--The Boston Globe

"A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from viivd tales of their lives and his, and how they intertwined."--The Economist

"A sensative, sympathetic, unpatronizing portrayal of lives that are ususally ignored or lumped into ill-defined stereotype."--Finanical Times

Sudhir Venkatesh’s latest book Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy--a memoir of sociological investigation revealing the true face of America’s most diverse city--was published in September 2013 by Penguin Press



From the Trade Paperback edition.
Certain readers and critics have faulted Henry James for two contradictory reasons. He has been thought a writer limited in scope and depth in his treatment of a particular class of people. On the other hand, he has been thought to be too complex, too extreme in putting into difficult language his view of relationships between his chosen characters.

Elizabeth Stevenson depicts Henry James as a stout and strong presence in the literature of the English language. From the relatively youthful, straightforward, and simple writing of his early years, to the involved complexities of his later stories, his significance cannot be denied. The barrier seems to have been a misunderstanding on the part of some. It is true nearly all of his characters are well clothed, well fed, and roofed comfortably. They are usually fairly well educated and talk literately and wittily. James rarely treats raw or wild nature, but he is sensitive to landscape as a background. He also does children well, and they are often outside the norms of society. Who is not touched by the uncanny in the tainted children of The Turn of the Screw, whether the taint is actually in the children or in the mind of the governess?

In James, one may not travel physically a great deal, except to the resorts of those well-off financially and socially. One does travel extensively through the minds and hearts of his characters. The journey rewards the traveler. The delicacy of James' "melodramatic" insights causes tremor or appreciation from a reader. He describes the way life is, both horrible and wonderful. No one else has expressed this understanding in quite his way. Henry James: The Crooked Corridor will be of interest to students of American literature and general readers interested in biographies.

Elizabeth Stevenson (1919-1999) was the author of the Bancroft Award-winning Henry Adams: A Biography; The Grass Lark, a biography of Lafcadio Hearn; Babbits and Bohemians; and Park Maker: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, all available from Transaction.
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