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Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  89 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
The National Mall in Washington, D.C., is “a great public space, as essential a part of the American landscape as the Grand Canyon,” according to architecture critic Paul Goldberger, but few realize how recent, fragile, and contested this achievement is. In Monument Wars, Kirk Savage tells the Mall's engrossing story—its historic plan, the structures that populate its corr ...more
Hardcover, 408 pages
Published November 2nd 2009 by University of California Press (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 253)
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Mike Hankins
Jun 11, 2015 Mike Hankins rated it liked it
Shelves: public-history
This book traces the development of the mall in Washington D.C., focusing on the construction of the Washington Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the creation of the entire area as a unified landscape as opposed to its original hodgepodge of uncoordinated memorials, and eventually the addition of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Of particular note is how savage relates the contemporary discussions of memorial design and purpose to the political debates of the times. For example, many Federalists li ...more
Margaret Sankey
Mar 02, 2014 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
Analysis of the monuments allowed to be placed on the national mall as it developed as patriotic sacred space, most fascinating then it deals with the monuments removed (important enough to inspire fund raising and a statue, but quickly forgotten or cringe-worthy later), relocated (the Titanic memorial) or fortunately never built (the Daughters of the Confederacy Mammy statue didn't raise enough money). It concludes with the controversy over the Vietnam memorial and how vehemently it was despise ...more
Joshua Barton
Jun 02, 2016 Joshua Barton rated it really liked it
Kirk Savage details the history of the National Mall, from the beginning design and vision of Pierre L'Enfant to the construction of more recent monuments like the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Savage explores how the Mall has been shaped by various visions of how to remember major events and people. Some like the Washington Monument have changed the way the Mall has not only been used, but how it's constructed. One of my favorite parts of the book is the relationship ...more
Nov 24, 2014 Jordan rated it really liked it
A Fascinating book that is both informative and easily accessible in its language. Savage takes the reader through the full history of Washington D.C. and the National Mall. Starting with George Washington, Savage traverses the complex and sometimes controversial history that is America's relationship with memorializing its past and ends with a discussion of September 11th. Over the course of 300+ pages, Savage provides 127 images (many of which he took himself) to add the visual connection that ...more
Kathleen Hulser
Mar 19, 2011 Kathleen Hulser rated it it was amazing
Fabulous consideration of changing attitudes towards monuments, memory and public space. Savage studies changes on the National Mall, and underlines how trees, gardens and park spaces once enjoyed for picnicking and strolling were razed to create abstract open spaces, comprehensible only from a helicopter, or via armchair theories. Savage's eye for detail is acute, and he continually says fresh and exciting things about the most familiar sites on Washington Mall. He is most original in his analy ...more
Jul 04, 2012 Ashley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic overview of the politics, emotion, and philosophy of DC's monumental core. Savage, the author of the fantastic Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America, provides a comprehensive account of the development of the National Mall in the late 19th century. He spends a decent chunk of the book exploring L'Enfant's plan for the city and the Washington Monument while breezing through monuments built after the mid-1930s. Although initially disa ...more
Michael Chornesky
Jan 23, 2016 Michael Chornesky rated it it was amazing
I have little to add to many of the reviews below on this book. It is the definitive history of how the National Mall evolved geographically, architecturally, landscape-wise, and as a source of national perception-- a place where an American identity was constructed and changed over time.

The book can be a slow read at times, but understanding the failed early past of the Nation's Capital and how it was reflected in the first century of the Mall's existence (or lack thereof) is an important piec
Mar 06, 2015 Timothy rated it really liked it
The book takes us from the founding of Washington D.C. intended to be a living monument to the founding fathers, through the controversy surrounding the World War II memorial. The author has done some fascinating work on the debates, deceptions, and delays that accompanied most monuments in Washington, which until the 1930s was a very different city than the one contemporary vistors take for granted. Can be read as a whole or just pick a chapter.
Apr 27, 2015 Jeramey rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, history
Incredibly insightful look at the National Mall and how it came to be. Wish I had read it before my recent trip to DC, not immediately after. Title is a bit deceiving, as it's not as much about the fight between monuments, but the origins and evolution of the mall.
Warren Perry
May 30, 2011 Warren Perry rated it it was amazing
Savage works his way across the National Mall investigating the history and the rationales behind the establishment of our greatest monuments. One of the questions he asks is: how many monuments are enough? His conclusion is a little weak-- he proposes a moratorium on monuments for a decade or so until we have had some time to get a better picture of where this development is headed and what is important enough to commemorate. His writing is lucid, his research is keen, and he has a fine lens on ...more
Matt Sickle
Feb 24, 2014 Matt Sickle rated it it was amazing
This book was both critical to my masters thesis and an enjoyable read. Part history, part warning to those that dare to design memorials in Washington, Kirk Savage's "Monument Wars" was an eye opener.
Washington Post
Jul 09, 2013 Washington Post rated it it was amazing
This superb study of monumental Washington traces how changing attitudes about our heroes are reflected in stone and space.

“Washington’s plans and monuments aspire to represent the essential America, but as they take shape on the ground, they become enmeshed in the complex realities of a living America. It is this interplay of aspiration and practice that makes the memorial landscape come alive, for in that interplay the landscape ceases to be a mere symbol of America and becomes an actor in the
Jun 22, 2016 B rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, westend
Ultimately, it falls short of really being the ultimate book about the Washington, DC landscape.

Savage has clearly thought hard about a series of dimensions relating to the monuments. But it does not seem like there's a real through-line in the book. First, it's about whether monuments should be placed at all, then it's about public space vs. public grounds, and then it's about the Vietnam Memorial and contrasting everything to it.

It could have used some more global thoughts, I think, as well
Courtney Homer
Apr 13, 2016 Courtney Homer rated it really liked it
Fascinating story of the monuments of DC. I'm not sure I could recommend it to someone who doesn't live here or have a deep love of the place, though the ample photographs are helpful. But as a transplant to DC, Savage brought to life the stories behind the monuments and controversies surrounding the spaces we today take for granted. I've passed so many statues and squares without thinking about their story; MONUMENT WARS was illuminating.
Apr 24, 2016 Gina rated it liked it
Shelves: grad-class
This was also a great book for a grad class. I learned quite a lot about the National Mall, and how monuments have been interpreted throughout history. I want to buy this for my personal collection!
Mar 31, 2012 Karen rated it really liked it
Fascinating! Amazed at the things that politicians fought about concerning sculpture, architecture, and landscaping! Did feel the author showed his own biases when he started writing about creations in the last fifty years; he was much more objective writing about earlier history.
Sherri Anderson
Feb 25, 2013 Sherri Anderson rated it liked it
This would have been a good book to read before we went to DC. It was very interesting reading about how the monuments went up and how the designs were created. I need to go back so that I can look at the monuments the way the artist created them.
Jun 15, 2016 William rated it really liked it
Excellent dialectic on monuments and memorials explores how power interplays with collective memory to create the National Mall that we see today. ...more
Apr 14, 2010 Sarah rated it liked it
Exhaustive account of the history and development of the Mall.
Jun 27, 2010 Allison rated it really liked it
Fascinating read about the history of monuments in DC.
Mar 22, 2010 Anne rated it really liked it
Nothing beats Grant on a rainy day.
Oct 07, 2014 Clifford rated it really liked it
Many visitors to Washington, DC do not realize that until the early part of the 20th century the national mall was wooded and filled with gardens, winding paths, and statuary. This important book explores the shift in the view of monuments and memorials from the 19th century concept of "ground," with heroic statuary spread around the city--something to be viewed--to the 20th century concept of memorials as "space," something to be experienced. Published by the University of California Press, thi ...more
Nov 14, 2010 Gyewon rated it really liked it
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