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Fallingwater Rising:
Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann,
and America's Most Extraordinary House

by Franklin Toker

Hardcover
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 1400040264
List Price:$35.00

Fallingwater Rising is the biography of the most famous American house of the twentieth century--Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, culled from hundreds of interviews, letters, and contemporary references by an internationally recognized specialist in the history of architecture.

When he got the commission to design the house, in 1934, Wright was nearing 70. He was living in professional isolation, his early fame long gone. Like so many Depression-era Americans, he had no new work in sight. Into his orbit stepped Edgar Kaufmann, a Pittsburgh department-store mogul and philanthropist with the burning ambition to build a world-famous work of architecture.

IT IS NOW SAFE TO ORDER the paperback of "Fallingwater Rising," so long as the title page bears the date 2009 or later. Unlike the 2005 paperback, this one is securely bound, and will never come apart. The Chinese edition may be ordered direct from Tsinghua University Press, Beijing: it was voted a "best book on architecture" by the China Central Library in 2010.

It was an unlikely collaboration: the Jewish merchant who had no lasting concern for modern architecture and the brilliant modernist who was paranoid about Jews--among many fictive enemies. But the two men produced an extraordinary building of lasting architectural significance that brought international fame to them both, and gained Wright the status of the greatest architect of the twentieth century.

FALLINGWATER RISING continues to gain readers all around the world. It was cited as runner-up for the J. Anthony Lukas Prize, administered jointly by the journalism programs of Harvard and Columbia universities (the judges were the highly distinguished Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times; author Sylvia Nasar of "A Beautiful Mind"; and James Fallows of The Atlantic).

Franklin Toker has been speaking on the book and related issues on CSPAN-2 and to live audiences at the Smithsonian and many cities in the U.S., as well as in Poland and Italy. Contact him at ftoker@pitt.edu if you would like to organize such a talk.

Also private book clubs around the country are increasingly using FALLINGWATER RISING for discussion. See the tab on a STUDY GUIDE for a dozen discussion points that may be helpful to you. Or contact Toker for specific questions, like "What got you started on this book?"

Interest is growing in other foreign editions of FALLINGWATER now that the Chinese edition appeared in 2009. The two countries that are most interested are Japan and Germany. Please contact the author if you have any leads in either of those countries.

Fallingwater Rising is an enthralling work that goes far beyond architecture to depict the United States in one of its most desperate eras. Involving key figures of the 1930s like Frida Kahlo, Henry R. Luce, William Randolph Hearst, Albert Einstein, Ayn Rand, and President Franklin Roosevelt, Fallingwater's story shows us how Kaufmann's house became not just Wright's masterpiece but a fundamental icon of American life. Here is popular history at its best.

Fallingwater Rising asks three basic questions:

  • By what process did Wright create the design?
  • What drove Kaufmann, an architectural conservative, to suddenly embrace such a radical and risky project?
  • And why, having together created one of the most important houses of the twentieth century, could Wright and Kaufmann never build anything again?

For eighteen years Franklin Toker sought answers to these and many other questions. He interviewed three of the apprentices who worked with Wright in the 1930s; met or corresponded with Kaufmann's lawyer and such business associates as Stanley Marcus; and quizzed dozens of Kaufmann friends and relatives. Toker located the Pennsylvania Supreme Court papers that document how Kaufmann took control of the family department store and got the capital to build Fallingwater. He decoded undetected references to Fallingwater and the Kaufmanns in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

Toker's study demystifies Wright and Fallingwater, but leads us to appreciate both as never before. We follow Wright as he struggled to overcome a bitter drop in popularity (he barely won admittance to a famous 1932 exhibition on modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art) by creating a work so stupendous that it gave him the title he always sought: "Greatest architect of all time."

Franklin Toker looks at Fallingwater as a work of art, as a triumph of public relations, as a popular creation of the Depression (along with Superman and Gone with the Wind), and as a weapon that both the architect and client used to overcome their private humiliations.

Toker is the consummate scholar, but here he has written a book that is accessible to anyone. The most famous modern house in the world emerges on these pages richer, deeper, more compelling, and ultimately more moving than anyone could have guessed.


Reviews

Franklin Toker's Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House has been reviewed dozens of times since its publication by Knopf/Random House in the fall of 2003. Some excerpts from these reviews follow immediately here, with all the full-text reviews available on another page.

  • "Contentious, rapt, utterly fascinating . . . this scholarly magnum opus is an absolute page turner, thanks not only to Toker's diligence, but also to his palpable excitement about his material. . . Nothing about the way Fallingwater was built, conceived, influenced or manipulated escapes the author's attention. He brings the house to life on the page even as he analyzes its larger meaning." -- Janet Maslin, New York Times, September 29, 2003

  • "Franklin Toker's . . . spellbinding look at Frank Lloyd Wright and the house that has become a monument to his life and work . . . the season's best amalgam of storytelling, history, glitter, gossip and art. (Those are the five basic food groups as far as gift books are concerned)." -- Janet Maslin, New York Times, November 21, 2003

  • "Franklin Toker's Fallingwater Rising is a terrifically interesting account of how this Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece came into being. It looks into everything about the Fallingwater project, from the tensions between Wright and his patron, to the public relations blitz that accompanied the finished product. This is that rare amalgam of captivating illustrations and a fascinating story." -- CBS Sunday Morning, December 21, 2003

  • "Not merely does Toker tell what may well be as close to the truth as we'll ever get about the building and boosting of this singular masterpiece; he also provides something of a synthesis of existing scholarship and journalism as well as a fascinating analysis of the relationship between architect and client." -- Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

  • "In Toker's hands, Fallingwater is both fine architecture and the house that gave modernism an American face; its biography is an epic story . . . Immersing himself in his subject for nearly two decades, Toker has covered every corner and then some . . . His passion ensures that the narrative stays alive . . . The pages fly by." -- Matthew Flamm, Newsday

  • "A must-read for Wright fans, it will also intrigue architecture buffs." -- Booklist

  • "Art historian Franklin Toker has peppered his recent study of the 20th century's most famous house with a delicious supply of tidbits." -- ARTnews

  • "Smart, well-researched . . . dispelling myths and miracles along the way . . . Toker also throws light on Fallingwater's poetic identity, and gets at why the house strikes a universal chord . . . Insightful, fascinating." --Jeffrey Hildner, The Christian Science Monitor

  • "Tracing the long, careful evolution of Wright's brilliant design . . . he tells the story of Kaufmann and his wife, and shows that the house was equally a reflection of these two strong-willed clients and their complex marriage." -- The New Yorker

  • "A fascinating portrait of the converging American dreams of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Kaufmann family set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. The book demonstrates how the story of one house can reveal a great deal about American identity and the forces that continue to shape it. It is an important work of scholarship yet it reads like a novel." -- Brent D. Glass, Director, Smithsonian National Museum of American History

  • "Keeps the reader engrossed and wondering what will happen next." -- Anthony Day, Los Angeles Times

  • "A cerebral, spiritual, and social pilgrimage through Fallingwater and the long shadows cast by the two personalities who brought the great home to fruition . . . with profiles that make Wright and Kaufmann human . . . Fallingwater, too, becomes a living thing through Toker's intimate wording: a wondrous creature, exquisitely tuned to the site . . . Digging into personal and architectural history, Toker demonstrates spadework of the highest, most exacting, and refined order." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • "The most comprehensive book available about Frank Lloyd Wright's most notable house . . . While there are prized pieces of new information in nearly every chapter of this book, Toker's investigation into the publicity and hype surrounding Fallingwater makes for some of the more fascinating reading here." --Library Journal (starred review)

  • "A juicy story . . . Fallingwater is controversial even today, and the story of how it came to be is enthralling." --Arizona Republic

  • "Wright's Fallingwater house made America fall in love with modernist architecture, according to this engrossing study . . . The trenchant analysis of Wright's character and creativity, the often lyrical evocations of his buildings, and the opinionated but insightful overview of the modernist intellectual milieu of the 1930s make the book a wonderful exploration of the psychological and social meaning of architecture." --Publishers Weekly

  • "If for no other reason, Frank Lloyd Wright would be justly famous for Fallingwater, one of the most extraordinary houses in the world. This biography of a house is also a celebration of the creative minds who envisioned it and provides all the reasons, if any are needed, why Fallingwater should be cherished as a national monument. Franklin Toker has performed an invaluable service." -- Meryle Secrest, author of Frank Lloyd Wright

  • "A cerebral, spiritual, and social pilgrimage through Fallingwater and the long shadows cast by the two personalities who brought the great home to fruition . . . with profiles that make Wright and Kaufmann human . . . Fallingwater, too, becomes a living thing through Toker's intimate wording: a wondrous creature, exquisitely tuned to the site . . . Digging into personal and architectural history, Toker demonstrates spadework of the highest, most exacting, and refined order." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • "Wright's Fallingwater house made America fall in love with modernist architecture, according to this engrossing study . . . The trenchant analysis of Wright's character and creativity, the often lyrical evocations of his buildings, and the opinionated but insightful overview of the modernist intellectual milieu of the 1930s make the book a wonderful exploration of the psychological and social meaning of architecture." -Publishers Weekly

  • "The most comprehensive book available about Frank Lloyd Wright's most notable house . . . While there are prized pieces of new information in nearly every chapter of this book, Toker's investigation into the publicity and hype surrounding Fallingwater makes for some of the more fascinating reading here." --Library Journal (starred review)

  • "An extraordinary book." -- Myron A. Marty, St. Louis Post Dispatch

  • "Fallingwater Rising . . . is a dramatic saga of riches, social climbing, bigotry, sex, suicide--and genius." --House and Garden

  • "Franklin Toker's enthralling saga . . . his riveting book" -- Pages Magazine

  • "Fallingwater is without argument a prime piece of 20th-century design. Toker's book is equally without argument a masterwork of reporting, biography, art history, social history, and aesthetic judgment." --Memphis Flyer