Best Wright Biography

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toastedskin
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Joined: Sat Apr 10, 2021 8:12 am

Best Wright Biography

Post by toastedskin »

There are a good handful of biographies of Wright out there, including the most recent Plagued by Fire, but is there a concensus of what is the "best" Wright biography?

Roderick Grant
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by Roderick Grant »

Probably not. Though there may be on which ones to avoid, principally "Many Masks," by Brendan Gill. The Meryl Secrest book is generally OK, but she knows nothing about architecture and relied on questionable resources to fill in the blanks. She also adds to the "Lincoln" rumor without even a nod to a source. About the same time as "Many Masks" came out, there was an accurate account by Harvey Einbinder, "An American Genius," which I never got all the way through; Harvey is not a very good writer. In other words, it's boring. Ada Louis Huxtable wrote a brief bio that I have not read (I spilled a glass of wine on it) and given her brilliance as an architecture critic in general, is probably good, but she, too, does the "Lincoln" dance. If you go with Twombly, don't bother with the first edition, wherein errors abound. (FLW did NOT meet Johannes Brahms in 1909; Brahms died in 1897.) The second edition amounts to a complete rewrite, and is better, though he knows nothing about architecture. I believe Finis Farr was a personal friend of FLW, so his 1961 bio may be a whitewash. Yet Farr was a journalist, and like Donald Hoffmann, tends to stick to the facts, avoiding unwonted evaluations. Probably doesn't matter; I doubt the book is easy to find. Grant Carpenter Manson's book is both a biography and an excellent account of the architecture, but only up to the end of the Oak Park years. The emphasis is more on the architecture, with biographical entries of a subordinate level of importance. Yet it is one of the best books on FLW in general ever written.

SDR
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by SDR »

Manson, at least, had the good fortune to write his book while his subject was alive---by a year. When was it that Wright wrote (or said) "[Manson] knows more about me than I do" ?

S

Paul Ringstrom
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by Paul Ringstrom »

I have read the Ada Louis Huxtable biography of FLW and I highly recommend it.

Ada Louis Huxtable: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Lloyd-Wrig ... oks&sr=1-2

Finis Farr: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Lloyd-Wrig ... oks&sr=1-1
Owner of the G. Curtis Yelland House (1910), by Wm. Drummond

Roderick Grant
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by Roderick Grant »

Actually, Finis Farr also wrote and published what became his bio while FLW was alive. Farr wrote for the Saturday Evening Post (Ah, memories!) a serialized version in the 50s, collected into the book in 1961,

Roderick Grant
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by Roderick Grant »

My favorite comment from Huxtable was in a scathing review of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts by Ed Stone. She dubbed the massive lobby - 600' long, wallpapered in marble, with blood-red carpeting and crystal chandeliers - the world's biggest whore house. She also wrote eloquently about the Imperial Hotel, as it faced demolition. She truly was a critic worth reading, both for an enlightened point of view and humor.

DRN
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by DRN »

2nd Edition Twombly was the first bio I read of Wright. The more I learned of Wright’s life and work from other sources, the less I referred to Twombly. I got the sense he used Wright’s An Autobiography as a guide, coupled that with a project list, and filled in blanks as best possible with research at the Capital Times archive. Wright’s autobiography was as one might expect a polished view, with some very significant omissions and a bit of spin.

Roderick is right about Twombly’s grasp of architecture...it was not good and delved in places into architectural criticism which was not his forte either. In one instance Twombly passed judgement on Wright’s successor firm, TAA, in a matter related to a construction failure that was beyond a biographer’s scope or understanding of engineering or construction practices.

I’ve found Wright’s life is best learned from the aggregate of many sources....

Roderick Grant
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by Roderick Grant »

In the first of Twombley's books, he mentioned that he became aware of FLW in college when he dated Elizabeth Jacobs. So he was late to the game.

I think of "An Autobiography" as a text on FLW's approach to design rather than as a credible autobiography. There are many 'facts' of his history as told in it that do not ring true. He was a fabulist when it came to his personal life.

HenryWhiting
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Joined: Thu May 16, 2013 4:10 pm

Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by HenryWhiting »

Having never read a biography of Ernest Hemingway, in anticipation of Ken Burns' film on Hemingway, I read Kenneth S. Lynn's 'Hemingway', and was amazed at how much better an account of H's life and work it was than any Wright biography is about Wright's life and work. Not only did it discuss H's life in far greater detail, but it also discussed his work in an even-handed way, pro and con. It was interesting to compare the two men's lives, for better or worse.

I still long for a generalist biographer like a David Brinkley, Doris Kearns Goodwin or the like to take on Wright and put his work and life in context with the greater culture.

When I recommend a Wright biography to a neophyte, it is Ada Louise Huxtable's, for its clarity, conciseness and brevity.

SDR
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by SDR »

Every life is a unique one; Wright's was if anything "more unique"---as was the other-worldly work he produced. Has anyone successfully connected the two: the work, as a coherent product of the life ? Is there anything about his personality as we know it, that comprehensibly led to the aesthetic content (as distinct from other aspects of the work, like its technological adventurousness or its care for the daily lives of its users) ?

It is possible to recognize in the work the authority lent by a disciplined mind, which in aesthetic terms would qualify Wright as a master designer no matter the genre or "style" he might have chosen to pursue. But can anything we know explain the singular magnificence of it---the whole Prairie-period blossoming, the unique products of a restless search in the middle years, the final triumph of Usonia and its progeny ? Isn't the look of this work---the thing that immediately strikes the eye, both on the page and in the flesh---something apart from most of what mankind has brought forth ? Can any biography explain that ?

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by Roderick Grant »

That, SDR, is exactly why writers without architectural savvy should leave the subject alone. Undoubtedly "Hemingway" benefitted from the fact that Lynn and Hemingway were in the same profession, a lateral move, if you will. Brendan Gill was also a superb writer, but, as Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. put it, he was "the Louella O. Parsons of architecture criticism." He should have stuck with fiction, of which there was plenty in "Many Masks." Ada Louise Huxtable proved her bona fides as an architecture critic over a long career, and thus is as credible as any biographer on FLW.

I would hesitate to give much latitude to Doris Kearns Goodwin, however. Her biographies expose a decided bias in her political leanings that color her objectivity on Lincoln, the Roosevelts or, especially, LBJ. Either David Brinkley or Hugh Downs would likely have done better.

SDR
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by SDR »

My point was that no one seems to have convincingly indicated a primary source, or combination of sources, of the most intangible aspect and at the same time the most prominent one found in Wright's work. Admittedly I have not read everything written about Wright---has anyone ?---but I have yet to encounter an adequate description of Wright's sources.

But what I'm asking for might be impossible. Trying to define the intangible---in this case, the mood or spirit of these buildings, collectively, as presented solely by their physical appearance---much less succeed in naming the ingredients and their possible antecedents, may be beyond even the most expert and experienced architectural reporter. (I use the term as it is now used in journalism: "reporting" is no longer just the transmission to the public of the ingredients of a story; no, it is now the gathering of facts, as an act in itself, that is "reporting.")

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dreddioa
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Re: Best Wright Biography

Post by dreddioa »

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