The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks

Bison Nov. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9781496220776. $29.95. NAT HIST
Drabelle (Mile-High Fever; The Great American Railroad War) writes a history of U.S. national parks that particularly considers the role of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903; the landscape architect best known for designing New York’s Central Park and for his impact on the urban planning of other major urban parks). In 1863, Olmsted visited California’s Yosemite Valley, and was appointed to manage the site the following year. His 1865 Yosemite report defined the values of the park, Drabelle writes, and his ideas about the preservation of natural scenic areas helped shape the development of the national parks movement. Drabelle contends that Olmsted understood the concept of the national park as a means for the country to seek character and self-definition. He traces these ideas through a thoroughly researched narrative that examines 20th-century naturalism and three sites: Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Niagara Falls State Park. While the book’s focus is on Olmsted, Drabelle also considers the historical creation of U.S. national parks, including their impacts on Indigenous peoples, who have often been displaced from their ancestral lands by the establishment or expansion of national parks.

VERDICT A book for lay readers curious about how natural wonders became manmade attractions.
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