A history of the conception and development of New York’s Central Park that does not mention Claude Lorrain, Wordsworth, William Kent, or Capability Brown—that is to say, the figures behind some of the wide-ranging currents of thought and feeling that informed the aesthetic decisions made by Olmsted and Vaux, the park’s creators—represents, however scrupulous the scholar’s attention to primary documents, a failure of sympathetic imagination. Into the vacuum that inevitably results from such a lack of imagination, it is nowadays fashionable for the scholar to obtrude a mentality that is au courant, and usually politically correct. Such is the case with Professor Eric Homberger, whose new book about corruption and conscience in antebellum New York is both pedantic in its accretion of documentary minutiae and so lacking in sympathetic imagination that it is, in the end, little more than a heap of...


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