The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C.
By Scott W. Berg
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375422805, 352pp.)
Publication Date: February 13, 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Grand Avenues tells the riveting story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant and the creation of Washington D.C.--from the seeds of his inspiration to the fulfillment of his extraordinary vision.
L’Enfant’s story is one of consuming passion, high emotion, artistic genius, and human frailty. As a boy he studied drawing at the most prestigious art institute in the world. As a young man he left his home in Paris to volunteer in the army of the American colonies, where he served under George Washington. There he would also meet many of the people who would have a profound impact on his life, including Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe. And it was Washington himself who, in 1791, entrusted L’Enfant with the planning of the nation’s capital--and reluctantly allowed him to be dismissed from the project eleven months later. The plan for the city was published under another name, and for the remainder of his life L’Enfant fought for recognition of his achievement. But he would not live to see that day, and a century would pass before L’Enfant would be given credit for his brilliant design.
Scott W. Berg recounts this tale, richly evocative of time and place, with the narrative verve of a novel and with a cast of characters that ranges from Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers to the surveyor who took credit for L’Enfant’s plans, the assistant who spent a week in jail for his loyalty to L’Enfant, and the men who finally restored L’Enfant’s reputation at the beginning of the twentienth century.
Here is a fascinating, little-explored episode in American history: the story of a visionary artist and of the founding of the magnificent city that is his enduring legacy.
Scott W. Berg holds a B.A. in architecture from the University of Minnesota, an M.A. from Miami University, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from George Mason University, where he now teaches nonfiction writing and literature. He publishes frequently in The Washington Post and lives in Washington, D.C. Visit his Web sites at www.scottwberg.com and www.grandavenues.com.
“A lively and literate view of Washington's early history, with liberal dashes of intrigue for good measure.” –Kirkus
“L’Enfant’s idiosyncratic personality interfered with his complete success yet only serves to make this biography a fascinating read.” –Booklist
“A welcome narrative… Berg performs sterling service in excavating this little-known story from the archives.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The reader never will be able to walk the streets of Washington again without envisioning the haughty genius of Major L'Enfant on horseback, oblivious to the rain and cold, looking down from Jenkins Hill, and with a vision of pre-revolutionary Paris in his mind's eye, seeing one of the world's great capital cities spread out before him.” –Buffalo News (New York)
“Scott Berg has created a readable portrait of Pierre Charles L’Enfant that shows the artist in full, with both his great gifts and his Icarus-like ambition. It is fascinating to speculate how America’s federal government might have emerged differently over the centuries if it had been seated in Thomas Jefferson’s simple ‘federal town’ rather than in L’Enfant’s grandiose city. The character of the capital city today is inseparable from its designer’s personality and vision.” –David A. Price, author of Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation