The American landscape was never the same after Frederick Law Olmsted. The graceful landscapes he designed, from Central Park to the Stanford University campus, are among the greatest open spaces in the country. Olmsted's landscape creations alone would place him among the most notable figures of 19th century America. But he hardly confined his limitless energy to designing parks. Witold Rybczynski's latest book, A Clearing in the Distance, chronicles not just Olmsted's remarkable designs: to do so would ignore half his achievements. This book unfolds Olmsted's diverse life, and in doing so tells the story of an entire era. Landscape architecture came late in Olmsted's life. By the time he started his first design, Central Park, he had accomplished more than many people dream of. Born in 1822, Olmsted grew up restless, unwilling to settle into a routine career. As a young man he traveled to China on a merchant vessel. Unsatisfied, he started a farm on Long Island, experimenting with the latest agricultural technology. Olmsted's importance as a public figure was soon to follow. Although he never completed a formal education he briefly attended Yale Olmsted was drawn to the world of literature and social change. His first book chronicled his epic journey through Europe at the age of 28, studying the cultural and physical landscape. With this success, Olmsted turned to publishing and co-founded The Nation magazine. Not yet ready to settle down, Olmsted wandered through the American South for five years working as a journalist for the New York Times. Olmsted never studied landscape design. By the time he had designed and supervised the largest urban park in America, he had absorbed more knowledge about the landscape than any education could provide. Over the next 40 years, Olmsted designed more than 60 parks and neighborhoods throughout the country: Cornell University; Morningside Park, New York; Biltmore, North Carolina.
Witold Rybczynski tells Olmsted's story with the insight one would expect from a great historian of American urbanism.