Genius of Place

The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Regular Price $25.99

Regular Price $33.99 CAD

Regular Price $25.99

Regular Price $33.99 CAD

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On Sale

Oct 30, 2012

Page Count

496 Pages




The full and definitive biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, influential abolitionist, ardent social reformer and conservationist, and the visionary designer of Central Park

Frederick Law Olmsted is arguably the most important historical figure that the average American knows the least about. Best remembered for his landscape architecture, from New York’s Central Park to Boston’s Emerald Necklace to Stanford University’s campus, Olmsted was also an influential journalist, early voice for the environment, and abolitionist credited with helping dissuade England from joining the South in the Civil War. This momentous career was shadowed by a tragic personal life, also fully portrayed here.Most of all, he was a social reformer. He didn’t simply create places that were beautiful in the abstract. An awesome and timeless intent stands behind Olmsted’s designs, allowing his work to survive to the present day. With our urgent need to revitalize cities and a widespread yearning for green space, his work is more relevant now than it was during his lifetime. Justin Martin restores Olmsted to his rightful place in the pantheon of great Americans.


"The remarkable story of America's first, and still foremost, landscape architect...Martin helps explain the driven, artistic temperament that informed the famed landscapes. He persuasively casts Olmsted as essentially a social reformer whose passion for meaningful work found its most complete expression in the creation of public spaces intended for the enjoyment of all. A revealing look at a still-underappreciated giant whose work touches posterity more intimately and more delightfully than many of his distinguished Civil War-era contemporaries." —Kirkus Reviews
"[A] wide-ranging, surprisingly revealing biography...Martin brings the Hartford-born Olmsted to life...An eye-opening, much-needed biography of a man whose work continues to inspire...An illuminating, sorely-needed biography." —Boston Globe
"Martin does an excellent job of tracing the development of this multitalented genius and-by the book's end-makes a powerful case for Olmsted as a reformer who not only created some of the world's most beautiful parkland but also helped to shape our lives and public spaces as we know them today." —Christian Science Monitor
"A full-scale biography." —Niagara Gazette
"[A] straightforward and enjoyable book...Reading this book, you get a full picture of the man, a man frustratingly immature and coddled for so many years, a man struck by personal tragedies...and ultimately a man whose achievements warrant a full-length biography." —The Daily Green
"Martin is good at shedding light on the less familiar aspects of Olmsted's life. Having written biographies of Alan Greenspan and Ralph Nader, he seems to know his way around rather remote personalities...Engaging." —Wall Street Journal
"A comprehensive journal of Frederick Law Olmsted's life written with great precision and exhaustive historical specifications; but these elements do not get in the way of a well-told tale...Highly recommended." —New York Journal of Books
"A workmanlike biography; it adequately examines the balance between Olmsted's public and private personae." —Library Journal
"[An] ardent biography...Olmsted's sense of adventure compelled him to embark upon a turbulent stretch as a sailor, which Martin renders as thrillingly as any maritime tale...Martin presents Olmsted's era in all its glory, with the intimate affairs and staggering accomplishments of the great man unfolding against the vivid backdrop of 19th-century America." —Publishers Weekly
"Olmsted led one of the most productive and influential lives in American history, yet owing to the diffusiveness of his early ventures and the nature of his principal legacy, landscape architecture, he has never attained the name recognition of some of his more singularly focused peers. Justin Martin's engaging new biography will help to change that perception...Martin has a particular skill for identifying and bringing forth the compelling aspects of the projects chosen for inclusion...A fast-moving and fascinating narrative of the life of one of America's great visionary figures." —Buffalo News
"An excellent book...Martin tells Olmsted's life story in such a way as to bring the reader into Olmsted's life. It is an enjoyable read that flows smoothly. A biography is enjoyable both because the subject has led an interesting life AND because the author has presented that life in a readable way. Genius of Place has just that combination. I highly recommend it." —American History Blog
"This biography of the landscape designer who stamped Manhattan green shows him to be a troubled idealist who had an unlucky personal life, but who nonetheless shaped some of the most important public spaces in America." —Manhattan
"The story of Olmsted's life offers today's readers an opportunity to see what effect one energetic and imaginative person had on the formation of today's nation. The author delivers this fascinating story in a prose that invites the reader to complete the book in one sitting-and then ask for more." —Roanoke Times
"Few men have written their signature across our public spaces as vividly, personally, and influentially as Olmsted...Justin Martin's first-ever full-scale biography reveals other fascinating sides of the famed landscape designer as well, including reformer and journalist." —Barnes and Noble Review
"Martin has done a fine job in presenting the life of a fascinating American." —Providence Journal
"A welcome exception to the rule that biographies don't make easy reading...Much original research went into this biography." —Internet Review of Books
"Rich and meticulously-researched, Justin Martin's biography makes a convincing case for Olmsted as 'The most important American historical figure that the average person knows the least about.'" —The Daily
"[A] fascinating new biography." —Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
"Olmsted designed more than thirty major city parks, the U.S. Capitol grounds, several university campuses, and many planned communities. But there's much more to Olmsted's life, as Justin Martin's Genius of Place makes abundantly clear...A rich story of a remarkable life." —Rocky Mountain Land Library
"A well written and easy to follow biography. Justin Martin does an excellent job helping to bring this figure to life." —Portland Book Review
"A good (and surprising) read...An intimate portrait...A fine biography of a man who helped shape modern America." —Hudson Valley News
"Absorbing...Lively...Olmsted's life story is fabulous biographical material, and Martin largely makes the most of it. In a brisk, unvarnished style, he artfully balances Olmsted's achievements with his personal limitations." —Seattle Times
"Exhaustively researched and clearly written, this volume should become the standard for students of both history and design." —Landscape Architecture
"Genius of Place offers more than the legacy of a man who accomplished 'more than most people could in three lifetimes.' Martin provides an intimate portrayal of man himself, whose life was both blessed with genius and plagued by tragedy." —E: The Environmental Magazine
"Provides a rich history of early America as well as the compelling life story of 19th century landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted...Rich with historical details of much of America's finest landscapes...A thoroughly enjoyable book." —
"Reading Genius of Place feels like listening to Olmsted's best friend dishing about the private life of a real person...Martin makes a convincing argument that Olmsted saw all of his work, from park-making to gold mining, as social reform. He points out the subtle ironies of Olmstead's life and provides historical and personal background without bogging the reader down or disrupting the flow of the narrative...Genius of Place is far more than a survey of Olmsted's creations. It's a tightly woven narrative that ties together his personal life, his many vocations and his impact on a turbulent era." —Charleston Post and Courier
"Illuminates Olmsted's major achievements as a visionary artist, social reformer, pioneering environmentalist, and founder of the modern profession of landscape architecture...[Martin's] book does not disappoint in the totality of its coverage...It also provides an intimate account of the personal tragedies and illnesses that plagued Olmsted throughout his life and fueled his near obsessive work ethic...[Martin's] intriguing account of Olmsted's life...captures the significance of his legacy." —The Dirt (blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects, "Best Books of 2011")
"Martin takes on the extraordinarily multifaceted life and career of the man known for his design of Central Park but whose legacy reaches far deeper and wider." —Reference and Research Book News
"Not only a great portrait of the man, but a portrait of a period in American history." —Sacramento Book Review
"[A] readable, chatty book...[This] biography succeeds in portraying a seminal character whose life strongly influenced the way people experience urban space in contemporary America." —Choice
"A delightful 400 page read...[Martin] draws the reader into the rhythm of FLO's various life stages, and what a journey it is...Genius of Place is able to make readers care as much about the play-by-play in FLO's private life as the color commentary around his public roles-and this is no small feat." —Forest Hills Gardens News
"[A] compelling biography." —Alaska Airlines Magazine
"A page-turner of a biography, which follows the ascendancy of a man who follows one dream after another, leaving a tangible, enduring legacy for a nation." —Leaflet (e-newsletter of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society)
"Martin has a keen eye...Martin makes full use of a wealth of primary sources to bring life to his subject...To understand the man, of course, we must understand the times in which he lives. Martin incorporates the historical perspective so seamlessly that readers may not even be aware that they have been transported to 19th-century America...Olmsted's life reveals itself as naturally as his designs, integrated with the setting and exposition of this outstanding biography." —Curled Up with a Good Book
"Part exposé of the man, part history of Americans subduing the U.S. terra firma." —Architect (magazine of the American Institute of Architects)
"Unearths insights into the park maker's troubled personal life as well as his roles as writer, social reformer, and unruly business collaborator." —Landscape Architecture
"Martin has succeeded brilliantly in bringing to detailed life the man he calls the greatest American most Americans have never heard of." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Genius of Place has proved an unexpected and intriguing delight. And make no mistake; Martin is a master craftsman of connecting his readers to his subject. Olmsted's life is painted in vibrant and articulate pages full of interest and sans a single paragraph of stuffiness." —
"Not only does Martin outline Olmsted's impressive credentials as a designer, but also his less well known contributions as a champion for America's parks, an essayist on the abolitionist movement and his work as an early environmentalist...Genius of Place is a very good biography of a man whose contributions to the beauty of the United States is incalculable." —January Magazine ("Best Books of 2011")
"From [Olmsted's] stormy family relationships to his social and political impact on the country, Genius of Place provides a powerful survey." —Midwest Book Review
"Olmsted's intriguing personal saga of tremendous achievement and devastating tragedies are captured in the richly-detailed biography Genius of Place." —Louisville Courier-Journal
"Olmsted did so many different things in life, that it's like reading a history of the country to read about him." —"Holiday Gift Guide for History Lovers," Smithsonian Magazine's Around the Mall blog
"Exhaustively researched." —Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[Martin's] writing is lively and the story never flags...Martin poignantly reveals the hardships of nineteenth-century living...An unflinching, and yet not unsympathetic, account of a brilliant yet tormented man who significantly shaped the landscape, and thinking, of fin de siècle America." —Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
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