Washington Burning by Les Standiford
This is a beautifully written, and ultimately moving, tribute to the founding and building of the nation’s capitol. It is also a history lesson on the terrors of war; in this case, the destruction of the Capitol by British soldiers in the War of 1814. In a brief 24 hours, 22 years of construction was destroyed with major damage to the White House and the Capitol building.
But the author’s key goal, well met, is to honor a man who was without honor in his time, the architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant. L’Enfant was selected by George Washington to design the new Federal City. His design worked so well that when, one hundred years later, a panel of the nation’s best architects and planners (including Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr.) was asked to re-design the city, they declined. These experts affirmed that L’Enfant’s original plan was the perfect one.
L’Enfant is now buried at the highest point in Arlington after dying as a virtually penniless, abandoned, man. This nation may never adequately repay the Frenchman L’Enfant for his services to his adopted country. This book is a fine start. Three Rivers Press, $16.00, 353 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.