Native Son

The Collected Essays Of John Brinckerhoff Jackson.

By Gergory McNamee

Landscape In Sight: Looking at America, essays by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (Yale University Press). Cloth, $35.

TO JUDGE BY this well-edited assemblage of essays by the late doyen of American cultural geography, John Brinckerhoff Jackson never met a landscape he didn't like. He writes with the high excitement of discovery and boosterism. An intellectual who, trained in the classical arts of Europe, came late to appreciate the vernacular style of, say, a northern Vermont farmhouse or a southern New Mexico adobe, Jackson championed the cause of the native in all its manifestations.

Thus we have his notes on "helix sports," a lovely term for surfing, snowboarding, sailing, and the other twist-and-turn "sports of mobility"; his careful study of the transformation of the American backyard and garage from places of work to places of private recreation (and, now that garages are being remade into home offices, to places of work once again); his thoughtful remarks on the best uses of shared space, of "learning to use them in a temporary way in order to overcome both the old-fashioned biological exclusiveness and the more modern emphasis on competition and control."

Jackson exhibits any number of well-considered prejudices, among them a liking for not-too-orderly urban centers like, say, Tucson's downtown. (At one point, he proposes that the Ford Foundation give grants to students of city planning with the condition that "for a year they would look at no picture books of Brave New Sweden...and spend the time instead in the heart of some chaotic, unredeemed, ancient city.")

Editor Horowitz, an historian at Smith College, recounts Jackson's career as a freelance scholar, reminding us that, as a self-taught geographer, he was always held in some mistrust by the academy--which makes his work all the more attractive. TW

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