You are here

Traces of J. B. Jackson

The Man Who Taught Us to See Everyday America
Helen L. Horowitz

BUY Cloth · 328 pp. · 7 × 8 · ISBN 9780813943343 · $39.50 · Jan 2020
BUY Ebook · 328 pp. · ISBN 9780813943350 · $39.50 · Jan 2020

John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies (2021)

J. B. Jackson transformed forever how Americans understand their landscape, a concept he defined as land shaped by human presence. In the first major biography of the greatest pioneer in landscape studies, Helen Horowitz shares with us a man who focused on what he regarded as the essential American landscape, the everyday places of the countryside and city, exploring them as texts that reveal important truths about society and culture, present and past. In Jackson’s words, landscape is "history made visible."

After a varied life of traveling, writing, sketching, ranch labor, and significant service in army intelligence in World War II, Jackson moved to New Mexico and single-handedly created the magazine Landscape. As it grew under his direction throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Landscape attracted a wide range of contributors. Jackson became a man in demand as a lecturer and, beginning in the late 1960s, he established the field of landscape studies at Berkeley, Harvard, and elsewhere, mentoring many who later became important architects, planners, and scholars. Horowitz brings this singular person to life, revealing how Jackson changed our perception of the landscape and, through friendship as well as his writings, profoundly influenced the lives of many, including her own.


"Twenty years after J. B. Jackson’s death, it is both exciting and appropriate to have this original intellectual biography by a historian who has brought scholarship and real affection toward a giant of landscape studies. Jackson had the most impressive intellect I’d ever encountered. I wanted to know where that mind came from, and anyone who has read his books is likely to wonder the same thing. To have a careful biography that sincerely tries to answer that question is of great value and use. The chapters based on Jackson’s travel diaries comprise the heart of the book, and because Jackson is such a brilliant diarist, and Horowitz is such a terrific curator, the results are dazzling."

–Robert Calo, producer/director of the PBS documentary J. B. Jackson and the Love of Everyday Places

We have known J. B. Jackson, the man, only at arm’s length through his erudite, confiding essays. Now, Helen Horowitz has given us the full arc of his life. Most telling are the extended passages from his never-before-seen journals, which take us on his solo motorcycle rides across mid-century America, journeys through loneliness to an affirming vision of how the human desire for community is inscribed on the land. Anyone whose eyes have been opened to the vernacular cultural landscape by his essays will delight in Traces of J.B. Jackson.

Chris Wilson, University of New Mexico, coeditor of Drawn to Landscape: The Pioneering Work of J. B. Jackson

[An] excellent biography... [Jackson] was appalled by the prospect of details about his 'personal history' being published after his death, and forbade Horowitz—whom he appointed as his literary executor—from writing or releasing such material. Horowitz ignored Jackson’s proscription, however. Her necessarily incomplete account of his life—structured in the form of nine intersecting essays—is by turns loving and anguished, admiring and angry.

New York Review of Books

[Horowitz] draws skillfully on Jackson’s writings and what she was able to learn from her conversations and correspondence with him to present an admiring account of her subject, but one that also confronts his racism and anti-Semitism directly (she writes that Jackson became more tolerant in his late years). This is an interesting, carefully researched, and gracefully written biography of an important man. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.


Readers of Traces will discover a person who was as complex and fascinating as the landscape he wrote about.


[A] piercingly intelligent chronology that follows Jackson year by year and sometimes week by week as he proceeds from a privileged boyhood in the U.S. and Europe, to study at prep schools and Harvard (class of 1932), to dalliances with architecture, commercial art, and newspaper work, to a stint as a novelist, periods spent ranching in New Mexico, military intelligence assignments in World War II, and travel, travel, and more travel.


Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books