Nick Offerman thinks Olmsted had gumption

Photographed against a tree, of course.

Nick Offerman and Ron Swanson have at least two things in common: they both know how to make useful implements out of wood, and they both seem to appreciate a quality burger.

There are also at least two places they diverge: Swanson must face Tammy 1 and Tammy 2, whereas Offerman only has to answer to Tammy 2, and I'm not so sure Ron Swanson would be a huge fan of Frederick Law Olmsted (although there's this: "Crying: Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon"). He definitely would be against the government building a park.

But Offerman, who played the Swanson character on the critically acclaimed, smart and hilarious seven season comedy Parks & Recreation, thinks Olmsted had gumption, and included the nineteenth century father of landscape architecture on a short list of twenty-one gumptious Americans that are the focus of his second book.

What particularly stands out in chapter six is that Offerman tells the story of how he came to know Olmsted, a story that involved a coveted private tour of Central Park by Olmsted experts. For anyone wanting to delve deeper into the subject, Offerman recommends several other books about Olmsted and Vaux: Country, Park, & City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux by Francis R. Kowsky, Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin (excellent, recommended), A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski, and Frederick Law Olmsted: Essential Texts edited by Robert Twombly. And he makes the excellent point that Vaux seems to have gotten the short end of the slide rule, with Olmsted garnishing most of the modern recognition for works the two produced in partnership.

The eclectic mix of characters Offerman pays tribute to, intermixed with an honest and passionate discussion of some of his political views, makes for an interesting read and another way to get to know Offerman a little better through some of his heroes. Whether the initial draw to the book is the mention of a comedy legend, iconic artist, or notable diplomat, the reader is sure to delight in learning fascinating tidbits about someone equally extraordinary yet less familiar.

Like an epic film franchise, McDonald's combo meal, or any respectable list, the book has three parts. "Freemasons" comprise Part 1, "Idealists", Part 2, and "Makers" round out Part 3. Another reviewer commented that the selections become increasingly personal to Offerman, which in general seems true (he is, after all, a maker). The twenty-first gumptious individual is the brilliant and funny Conan O'Brien, who has nothing in particular to do with "landscape" but did play one of Offerman's hand-crafted kazoos a few years ago and may be the reason I pick up King Lear.

Watch Offerman discuss his book on YouTube. His third book "Good Clean Fun" comes out in October 2016. You can find autographed copies of it and Gumption on his website.

Did you read this book? What did you think? What books about Olmsted or Vaux would you recommend?

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