In her richly detailed biography of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), Meryle Secrest recounts an anecdote that is at once laughable and chillingly typical of her subject. The scene is at Taliesin, the legendary house-cum-shrine the architect designed for himself in Spring Green, Wisconsin. One of his apprentices had crawled under the Steinway piano to do some repairs on the legs when Wright walked in. Unaware that anyone else was present, Wright tidied up a few things, then walked to the piano, “struck a few chords and pirouetted out of the room, singing to himself, ‘I am the greatest.’”

Although on that occasion Wright made the claim in private, it was not one he usually kept to himself. As scores of writers on the subject have made clear, he was one of the most publicly arrogant architects on record. And as Meryle Secrest makes equally clear, he had his reasons. Wright’s career as an architect lasted from the...


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