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Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography

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Meryle Secrest's Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography focuses on Wright's family history, personal adventures, and colorful friends and family. Secrest had unprecedented access to an archive of over one hundred thousand of Wright's letters, photographs, drawings, and books. She also interviewed surviving devotees, students, and relatives. The result is an explicit portrait of b Meryle Secrest's Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography focuses on Wright's family history, personal adventures, and colorful friends and family. Secrest had unprecedented access to an archive of over one hundred thousand of Wright's letters, photographs, drawings, and books. She also interviewed surviving devotees, students, and relatives. The result is an explicit portrait of both the genius architect and the provocative con-man. "Secrest seizes the themes most evocative of certain of our cultural myths, forging them into a coherent and emotionally plausible narrative."—New Republic "An engaging narrative."—New York Times Book Review "The real triumph of this biography . . . is the link it makes between Frank Lloyd Wright's personal life and his architecture."—The Economist "Secrest's achievement is to etch Wright's character in sharp relief. . . . [She] presents Wright in his every guise."-Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune "An extremely engaging profile."—The Philadelphia Inquirer "A spellbinding portrait."—Library Journal "The best [biography] so far, a huge and definitive accumulation of fact."—Time


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Meryle Secrest's Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography focuses on Wright's family history, personal adventures, and colorful friends and family. Secrest had unprecedented access to an archive of over one hundred thousand of Wright's letters, photographs, drawings, and books. She also interviewed surviving devotees, students, and relatives. The result is an explicit portrait of b Meryle Secrest's Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography focuses on Wright's family history, personal adventures, and colorful friends and family. Secrest had unprecedented access to an archive of over one hundred thousand of Wright's letters, photographs, drawings, and books. She also interviewed surviving devotees, students, and relatives. The result is an explicit portrait of both the genius architect and the provocative con-man. "Secrest seizes the themes most evocative of certain of our cultural myths, forging them into a coherent and emotionally plausible narrative."—New Republic "An engaging narrative."—New York Times Book Review "The real triumph of this biography . . . is the link it makes between Frank Lloyd Wright's personal life and his architecture."—The Economist "Secrest's achievement is to etch Wright's character in sharp relief. . . . [She] presents Wright in his every guise."-Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune "An extremely engaging profile."—The Philadelphia Inquirer "A spellbinding portrait."—Library Journal "The best [biography] so far, a huge and definitive accumulation of fact."—Time

30 review for Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I set out to read just one book about F LL Wright to gain knowledge of his career and life. After reading reviews of different books, I decided to go with this straight shooting biography. There are many books about his designs, and we had visited his first home and studio in Oak Park last summer, so I was looking for something to offset that. I was NOT disappointed. This book, in addition to following the development of his designs and career, also has many of the messier, cruder details, start I set out to read just one book about F LL Wright to gain knowledge of his career and life. After reading reviews of different books, I decided to go with this straight shooting biography. There are many books about his designs, and we had visited his first home and studio in Oak Park last summer, so I was looking for something to offset that. I was NOT disappointed. This book, in addition to following the development of his designs and career, also has many of the messier, cruder details, starting with the roots of his family (which gives the book a bit of a slow start), his father the spendthrift itinerant preacher, the overbearing love of his mother, the development of his embattled loner/misunderstood genius aura, his shoestring budgets, the Welsh hatred of the English, the derivative designs and moon-lighting, the early successes, the gathering of wealthy patrons, the theater fire, the flight of fancy, the scandal, the horrible murder, the trips to Japan, the dogged wrath of his third spouse scorned, the hearings and arrests, the opposition to war, and the investigations, but also the roots of his ideas, their development over time, his failures and his brilliant inspirations. In addition to all of that, the book also describes his difficult interaction with his clients, including the unyielding will of the designer, the last minutes sketches, the leaky roofs, the faulty wiring, inflexible interiors, and, naturally, the budget overruns. And finally you also find the childish jealousies, the scathing insults, the bragadocio, the endless grudges, the begging for money, the blatant manipulations, the impulsive spending, the emotional outbursts, and the ridiculous stunts … But this stuff is not separated by type as I have just done; it is all mixed together following a rough chronological order, as it would be if you were seeing it in real time. All in all, this is a very revealing, very informative, fun read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ray Foote

    This was what I think a biography should be - objective and extremely detailed

  3. 5 out of 5

    David J Gill

    Meryle Secrest is a good story teller (a talent for narrative not for making things up) and Wright gives her a lot of material to dig into. Sections of this book on Wright's antics are frankly hilarious. But Wright's life is also wrenching, heroic, mesmerizing, profound, impossible to interpret and unbelievable by turns. Some conclude that he was just a horrible person. He had a talent for invective and self invention and could not share the spotlight with anyone, but was more to the man than se Meryle Secrest is a good story teller (a talent for narrative not for making things up) and Wright gives her a lot of material to dig into. Sections of this book on Wright's antics are frankly hilarious. But Wright's life is also wrenching, heroic, mesmerizing, profound, impossible to interpret and unbelievable by turns. Some conclude that he was just a horrible person. He had a talent for invective and self invention and could not share the spotlight with anyone, but was more to the man than self interest. What is the best biography of Wright? Hardcore Wright aficionados, the worshipful ones, don't like this one and despise Brendan Gill's Many Masks which is perhaps loose on facts. Secrest's is a great one as is Robert Twombly's. There is no multi-volume scholarly biography, surprisingly. The best scholarship/writing on Wright and his work are probably the focused studies like Frank Lloyd Wright and the Art of Japan: The Architects Other Passion by Julia Meech, Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House: Architecture as Portraiture and Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House by Franklin Toker.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Blake

    This book is a brick, but it is riveting the entire way through. It does one of my least favorite things that biographies do -- that is to give a brief version of the entire life and death of the subject at the outset -- but even that is done very well. Starting with Lloyd Wright's ancestors in Wales, every major personality in this history is fleshed out so that when the relationships are recounted, everyone seems like a real person. This is especially important when it comes to his wives, who This book is a brick, but it is riveting the entire way through. It does one of my least favorite things that biographies do -- that is to give a brief version of the entire life and death of the subject at the outset -- but even that is done very well. Starting with Lloyd Wright's ancestors in Wales, every major personality in this history is fleshed out so that when the relationships are recounted, everyone seems like a real person. This is especially important when it comes to his wives, who could easily be dismissed with cheap psychological assessments, but are given equal validity. Very well written, impeccably researched.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pat Rolston

    This is a wonderfully researched and executed biography capturing the wide range of contradictions that constituted Frank Lloyd Wright’s being. His life is an amalgam of conflicting family dynamics from a fawning overprotective mother to a father who abandoned his wife and children. The author explores Wright’s origins back to Wales and we come to understand the profound impact this heritage has on the life of Wright. As the family dynamics and ancestry is explored the picture emerges of a young This is a wonderfully researched and executed biography capturing the wide range of contradictions that constituted Frank Lloyd Wright’s being. His life is an amalgam of conflicting family dynamics from a fawning overprotective mother to a father who abandoned his wife and children. The author explores Wright’s origins back to Wales and we come to understand the profound impact this heritage has on the life of Wright. As the family dynamics and ancestry is explored the picture emerges of a young Wright who has been exposed to an amazing range of personalities. I found the author’s time spent tracking the connections intriguing and key to the puzzle of his many contraindications. He is a narcissist boarding on clinical while able to charm most anyone from wives to clients out of seemingly untenable dilemmas. His iconic architecture and the path to his reputation as a giant of the profession is the heart of the book. The reader will be privy to the story behind the epic creations from Falling Waters to the Johnson and Johnson world headquarters. The backstory to his beloved Taliesin alone is worth the investment of time to read Secrest’s biography of this complex and irascible American icon of architecture.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    This is the definitive Wright biography. Secrist writes well and thoroughly of Wright’s professional and personal life. What struck me is how, due to “Loving Frank” so much is made of Wright’s romance with Mamah Cheney (which was short-lived due to her murder)—even Taliesen offers a “Loving Frank” tour, when his attachments to his first wife Catherine, his second the venomous Miriam Noel and his final to Olgivanna were of greater duration. Olgivanna probably had the strongest effect on Wright’s This is the definitive Wright biography. Secrist writes well and thoroughly of Wright’s professional and personal life. What struck me is how, due to “Loving Frank” so much is made of Wright’s romance with Mamah Cheney (which was short-lived due to her murder)—even Taliesen offers a “Loving Frank” tour, when his attachments to his first wife Catherine, his second the venomous Miriam Noel and his final to Olgivanna were of greater duration. Olgivanna probably had the strongest effect on Wright’s career and certainly was his helpmeet. Secrist maintains objectivity towards Wright’s mercurial character and doesn’t gloss over his failings any more than she diminishes his accomplishments.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LINDA

    The problem with reading biographies is that, often, you come away with a distaste for the subject. I did not enjoy the style in which this book was written. I felt that the author fell in love with her research and was afraid to omit facts, no matter how marginal they were to understanding Wright. My takeaway was that Frank Lloyd Wright was a arrogant, self-centered, unfaithful and uneducated man who took advantage of friends, acquaintances and aspiring architects. He did not even attend his mo The problem with reading biographies is that, often, you come away with a distaste for the subject. I did not enjoy the style in which this book was written. I felt that the author fell in love with her research and was afraid to omit facts, no matter how marginal they were to understanding Wright. My takeaway was that Frank Lloyd Wright was a arrogant, self-centered, unfaithful and uneducated man who took advantage of friends, acquaintances and aspiring architects. He did not even attend his mother's funeral after she devoted her life to his development. He may have been some kind of "genius" but he seemed to have no moral compass.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    Okay, I admit I skimmed this book for information about his love life. Anyway, it's very detailed on *all* aspects of his life. Kind of makes me never want to write a biography - so much fact-finding/checking/recording! Okay, I admit I skimmed this book for information about his love life. Anyway, it's very detailed on *all* aspects of his life. Kind of makes me never want to write a biography - so much fact-finding/checking/recording!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Slow book to read...did learn a lot about FLLW's life's events, but think the author spent too much time on not-so important details. Will compare it to "Many Masks" by Brendan Gill when finished.. Slow book to read...did learn a lot about FLLW's life's events, but think the author spent too much time on not-so important details. Will compare it to "Many Masks" by Brendan Gill when finished..

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael Mccabe

    A very readable biography. The author did a nice job of finding themes in FLW's upbringing that may have led to some of his peculiar characteristics. A very readable biography. The author did a nice job of finding themes in FLW's upbringing that may have led to some of his peculiar characteristics.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This book was informative, but it was also wordy and tedious. It was a relief to finish it!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Perkins

    I decided not to finish this biography because I wasn't in love with the writing and it also bothered me how often the biographer used conjecture to talk about Frank Lloyd Wright's motivations/life events/goals. The book was overwhelmed with detail - from FLW's own autobiography, from letters, from newspapers and other sources - but the biographer still spent a lot of time guessing at what FLW would have done, why he would have done it, what events in his childhood made him behave the way he did I decided not to finish this biography because I wasn't in love with the writing and it also bothered me how often the biographer used conjecture to talk about Frank Lloyd Wright's motivations/life events/goals. The book was overwhelmed with detail - from FLW's own autobiography, from letters, from newspapers and other sources - but the biographer still spent a lot of time guessing at what FLW would have done, why he would have done it, what events in his childhood made him behave the way he did, etc. It was disconcerting. I didn't believe any of the guesses or want them; it felt like telling the reader what to believe about the architect rather than letting the historical details speak for themselves. Also, FLW was apparently pretty egotistical and he had a lot of affairs. That's not the biographer's fault, but it made me a little sad reading about how unhappy, in debt, or chasing unreachable things he constantly seemed to be. I really just wanted a book that explained the philosophies behind his creations and the details of what he built; I'll have to look elsewhere for that.

  13. 5 out of 5

    SusanwithaGoodBook

    I've read a lot of little bios in other books about FLW's work, but I still had a lot of questions about certain aspects of his life and family, so this was just the ticket. Well written and researched, and very detailed, it answered all my questions and more. Sure, parts of it were a little more than I needed, but overall it was a good read and very informative. I've read a lot of little bios in other books about FLW's work, but I still had a lot of questions about certain aspects of his life and family, so this was just the ticket. Well written and researched, and very detailed, it answered all my questions and more. Sure, parts of it were a little more than I needed, but overall it was a good read and very informative.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim Brown

    Mercurial is the word I think describes him.He did it his way.Everyone else was always wrong.Murders,fires,divorces,law suits,constant debt,socialist/communist leanings, never perturbed his genius.He was stubborn,hard headed,jealous,vengeful,and one of the most acclaimed architects of all time

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Wlazelek

    Although I learned a lot about the architect as a man (not a nice man), this was a very difficult book to read. Very very long and tedious book, with so very much detail. I was hoping for a more enjoyable read, even if the topic was a difficult man. Do not recommend.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    Entertaining look into the life of this brilliant and eccentric architect. No stone left unturned. Includes many of his faults and foibles. And women; so many women—of such variety, to support each fragment of his personality that surfaced throughout different times of his life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Debbie P

    While I intended to skim through this tome, it was impossible with each page chock full of astounding and dishy details. Fascinating!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I bought this book about a decade ago after a trip to Taliesen and finally got around to reading it. I don't remember anything about the tour of Taliesen, but it would be interesting to go back after reading this book. This is a very thorough biography of a fairly unlikable man. Wright was self-centered, childish and unfaithful, yet a great artist. Secrest treats her subject objectively, showing the strengths and weaknesses of the man and his architecture. She also does a great job of treating t I bought this book about a decade ago after a trip to Taliesen and finally got around to reading it. I don't remember anything about the tour of Taliesen, but it would be interesting to go back after reading this book. This is a very thorough biography of a fairly unlikable man. Wright was self-centered, childish and unfaithful, yet a great artist. Secrest treats her subject objectively, showing the strengths and weaknesses of the man and his architecture. She also does a great job of treating the women in his life as people in their own right -- in fact Secrest treats them better than Frank Lloyd Wright did! However, in describing Wright's life thematically, she sometimes skips around chronologically, leaving me confused about what year the events she was referring to took place. Also, in a book this long and dense, it would have been helpful if, when she mentioned a person that had appeared in a previous chapter, she had given the reader a reminder of who that person was, rather than just referring to him or her by last name. I made good use of the index in trying to figure our who people were! Finally, this book needed a lot more pictures of Wright's work, preferably in color. It was frustrating to read a long description of a beautiful building and not be able to see it. Despite these quibbles, I really did enjoy reading this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sujitt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Frank Lloyd Wright was an archethect who went to Europe and designed some of the greatest homes ever. His whole life was filled with ups and downs. It all started with his parents divorce and how he never got to see his dad again. Through out Wrights life, he was never the best student at school but, he was very smart. Wright entered the university of Wisconsin were he got a degree for at archetecture. Wright later went to Europe to learn more about archetecture. Here I Learnt that he was detica Frank Lloyd Wright was an archethect who went to Europe and designed some of the greatest homes ever. His whole life was filled with ups and downs. It all started with his parents divorce and how he never got to see his dad again. Through out Wrights life, he was never the best student at school but, he was very smart. Wright entered the university of Wisconsin were he got a degree for at archetecture. Wright later went to Europe to learn more about archetecture. Here I Learnt that he was deticated to his profession and he loved designing homes and buildings. After his studies in Europe Wright came back to America to Become a great archetect. And he did! Wright became the the front cover of Archetecture at his time and is rememberd today as one of the best. This was a great book because it talks about every major scene in his life and gives a lot of knowledge about who you are reading about.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    After having read two other books fairly recently about Frank Lloyd Wright I wondered what this huge book was going to teach me-but in the first few pages I found out. There's material here (unfortunately in grinding length) that needed to be documented and documented it was. Somehow the author pored over apparently every conversation, bill for ascots and aside ever spoken about Frank Lloyd Wright and I'd be surprised if they aren't all in fact here. It took a long, long time to read and there was an asp After having read two other books fairly recently about Frank Lloyd Wright I wondered what this huge book was going to teach me-but in the first few pages I found out. There's material here (unfortunately in grinding length) that needed to be documented and documented it was. Somehow the author pored over apparently every conversation, bill for ascots and aside ever spoken about Frank Lloyd Wright and I'd be surprised if they aren't all in fact here. It took a long, long time to read and there was an aspect of dread. I had to take it in small bits and, did I mention it took a long time? The photo plates were woefully inadequate. Hundreds of pages of text describing Wright's projects could have been omitted with just a few photographs. I'm glad I read it, I'm even more glad I'm done.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bacongirl

    Overall, this was an excellent biography detailing the life of an architectural genius who was also a self-centered, overbearing person. The book starts a bit slowly with the author laboriously going over FLW's Welsh ancestry and Welsh-influenced background to the point that it's almost painful, but hang in there. After the author is done with that, she does a wonderful job of bringing the architect and his times to life. I found her account absolutely fascinating, and could not put this book do Overall, this was an excellent biography detailing the life of an architectural genius who was also a self-centered, overbearing person. The book starts a bit slowly with the author laboriously going over FLW's Welsh ancestry and Welsh-influenced background to the point that it's almost painful, but hang in there. After the author is done with that, she does a wonderful job of bringing the architect and his times to life. I found her account absolutely fascinating, and could not put this book down. The size of the book is intimidating, but don't let that put you off. I loved it-- but I didn't love Frank's thoughtlessness, financial stupidity, and arrogance. Even if this wasn't a truly engaging and entertaining book, it would still be worth reading just to learn more about arguably the most influential American architect of all time. I highly recommend this.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I had a very hard time reading this book. It was a slog on almost every page. I think FLW was an interesting person, but I did not find the book to be the least bit interesting. I gave up reading it, but came back because I did want to learn more about his life. I did learn more about his life, but I would recommend to any but serious historians or architects that they read a summary of his life somewhere else. While the book is already over-long (in my opinion), it would have been greatly enhan I had a very hard time reading this book. It was a slog on almost every page. I think FLW was an interesting person, but I did not find the book to be the least bit interesting. I gave up reading it, but came back because I did want to learn more about his life. I did learn more about his life, but I would recommend to any but serious historians or architects that they read a summary of his life somewhere else. While the book is already over-long (in my opinion), it would have been greatly enhanced by the addition of photos of many of the buildings described in the book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    This bio of the famous man tells the creative, self centeredness and beauty of the life of this architect. After a visit to Falling Water I got interested in the man behind the innovative designs. He had a colorful life with tragedy, success and acclaim. Worth the read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andrew McClarnon

    Thorough examination of FLlW's life, with some excellent passages through career highlights, but emphasis was on the personal, rather than the professional. I'd have enjoyed more consideration of the buildings and changes in his style - though there are plenty of other books about him and his work. Thorough examination of FLlW's life, with some excellent passages through career highlights, but emphasis was on the personal, rather than the professional. I'd have enjoyed more consideration of the buildings and changes in his style - though there are plenty of other books about him and his work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    I thought I was never going to finish this book! I bought this book at the gift shop at Taliesin West on a trip to Arizona. I enjoy Wright's architecture and wanted to read more about his personal life. This book covers both. However, the details can get quite tedious. I thought I was never going to finish this book! I bought this book at the gift shop at Taliesin West on a trip to Arizona. I enjoy Wright's architecture and wanted to read more about his personal life. This book covers both. However, the details can get quite tedious.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Good, but I would have preferred a bit more about his personal life. It is a bit of a slog to read about architecture rather than looking at it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ashleigh

    Looong biography of Wright, but full of details and information on his tumultuous life.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Great information...but way more in-depth than I was looking for. Didn't finish it - I like FLLW, but am not obsessed with him! Great information...but way more in-depth than I was looking for. Didn't finish it - I like FLLW, but am not obsessed with him!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    After reading Loving Frank, I was curious to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright. This book was recommended by Nancy Horan (author of Loving Frank).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Near-excruciating detail. But some great insights - so far.

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