• Genius of Place

  • The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted
  • By: Justin Martin
  • Narrated by: Richard Ferrone
  • Length: 18 hrs and 47 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (216 ratings)

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Genius of Place

By: Justin Martin
Narrated by: Richard Ferrone
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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2011 Justin Martin (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Ponderous yet incomplete

There is no question that Olmsted was a true Renaissance character despite a lack of a formal education and this work accurately describes his many contributions to our country. However, we don't ever see the inner man except in rare glimpses which are tantalizing but so incomplete. For example, marrying the widow of his deceased younger brother and then having more children by her suggests that they might have been close but his frequent and prolonged absences from her paint a different picture. Perhaps there is a personality disorder that the author ignores or prefers to downplay out of fear that he might besmirch the man. Was he capable of any love except love of himself? Was he so narcissistic that everyone else in his life was simply a supporting actor?

There were several times when I was tempted to discard the book as it was needlessly long and ponderous. The one thing that kept me going was the wonderful narration by Richard Ferrone who brought more life to the written word than could have been found in the bare words.

While this was a scholarly work that accurately described every park ever designed by this great man, it failed to make him a human. One is left wondering if he was a drinker or a womanizer. What were his politics other than his attitude towards slavery and the Civil War? What was his relationship with his half-siblings? The fallout after his father's death was poorly explained. It was as if the author was only interested in cataloging each and every park and not covering anything else except in fleeting and incomplete detail.

4 people found this helpful

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A Great Tribute To a True Genius

Generation of the book was well done, and complimented the terrific writing style of the author. Overall, an interesting and fairly lively look at Olmsted's life and works. I would recommend this for students, and anyone with an interest in how landscape architecture grew as a profession, and how Olmsted's vision was the driving force.

4 people found this helpful

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An Impactful Life

A truly amazing life arc. From many different vocations as a youth he found his passion and calling which is still inspiring many to this day. I have visited a few of his creations and can’t wait to go track down and see some more!

2 people found this helpful

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More than Central Park

I learned a lot about Civil War era America through reading this book. As I'm sure is the case with a lot of people, I had no idea how many different endeavors Frederick Law Olmested had pursued during his wild & lengthy career, and how they impacted an affected American culture long after his passing. I had no idea how much the national park system posed to him, and his landscape architecture firm. Fascinating stuff.

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I learned so much

An interesting way to learn more American history. Olmsted was involved in so many different projects and activities over the course of his long life, across the United States. It's an engaging story and very well narrated.

2 people found this helpful

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Genius Beckons

An incredible biography of a man destined to leave us an amazing legacy. How he stumbles into his true vocation while launching other landmark endeavors generates a story to inspire! For those who care about the environment and social justice, reading about Frederick Law Olmsted's life and work is foundational.

2 people found this helpful

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Marvelous

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Olmsted's life was sublimely interesting; he spent considerable portions of his life as a "scientific farmer," a newspaper reporter, the author of "travelogues" chronicling his journeys through the American South and England in the early 1850s, the supervisor of mining operations at the Mariposa gold mine in Bear Valley CA, the founder and head of the US Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, . . . - while along the way inventing, almost single-handedly, the profession of landscape architecture in the United States, creating a series of true masterpieces (NYC's Central, Prospect, Morningside, and Riverside Parks, Boston's "Emerald Necklace" parks, the grounds of the US Capitol, the Stanford University campus, among many, many others). Martin's book is wonderfully well-constructed and he tells the story with verve, and I found it extraordinarily interesting from start to finish and, by the end, quite moving.

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Fascinating biography of a genius

This is a great book. Before reading it I thought flo was always into gardening.

1 person found this helpful

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Brilliant

The best bio of Fred Law Olmsted I’ve ever listened to. So much I didn’t know. Performance is engaging and clear!

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What a life!

Absolutely loved it!
I didn’t imagine that a man with landscaping legacy would also have influenced in the Red Cross and the NY Times. Awesome biography. A must read!!

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Profile Image for Margaret
  • Margaret
  • 08-23-14

The Man who shaped America

What made the experience of listening to Genius of Place the most enjoyable?

I had first heard of F L Olmsted when I saw a painting by John Singer Sargent. Then heard of him again in "The Devil and White City" where he did the landscaping for the 1893 Exhibition. So to find out that he had done so many places in America; he was the "Lancelot (Capability) Brown" of America

What did you like best about this story?

The fact that he was a Polymath was more than I expected. And where it says in the book that he wished he had found that Landscape Architect was his calling and did not want his son to waste time on other employment. But, it was the life experience that had shaped him and also America.

Have you listened to any of Richard Ferrone’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Richard Ferrone as always delivered a 5 star performance with his warm and clear voice. I have now searched out one of my unheard books read by him,

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

The Olmsted Legacy

Any additional comments?

I alread knew that he had come to England and the rest of Europe for inspiration, and recognised parts of Central Park that had been born from these journeys; and I loved the way he described his parks as the lungs of the city. As with all Polymaths his health suffered at the end, so sad