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Most people have heard of Central Park and Prospect Park in New York, Stanford University in California, the Back Bay Fens and Franklin Park in Boston, and the Capitol Grounds in Washington, D.C. -- but few can identify Frederick Law Olmsted as the man behind some of America's most iconic public spaces.
Of those who do know Olmsted, even fewer know him as anything other than a landscape architect. In Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, Justin Martin explores Olmsted's roots as a reformer. As a journalist, Olmsted championed the abolitionist cause to Northern and British audiences in the 1850s and 60s, exposing the evils of slavery; as an environmentalist, he created public spaces that preserved the already-existing endangered natural world. Olmsted's conservation efforts are still felt today in places like Niagara Falls and Yosemite.
Genius of Place also delves into Olmsted's personal life. Despite previous portrayals of Olmsted as a devoted family man with a tranquil home life, Martin exposes the tensions of Olmsted's marriage and familial relationships, as well as Olmsted's struggle with illness and personal tragedy, to paint a comprehensive picture of one of the most influential people of the nineteenth century.