This book is reminiscent of the Paramount Pictures executive that wrote of Fred Astaire "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."
The book is spottily written and makes too much of Ellwood's humble family background, that he changed his name, and is reported not to have been able to draw. It follows University of Washington Professor Meredith Clausen's exposé of a couple years back, which tread on the same subject matter, though more concisely.
Once much published in the architectural press, Ellwood had until recently been fairly well forgotten, which is a shame in that modern design would have been poorer without his undeniable contribution. The central precept of Neil Jackson's book seems to hinge on whether Ellwood was a designer that communicated via graphic means or an exponent and impresario of modernist design. That he wasn't licensed seems to rankle the writer (and the architectural profession) perhaps mostly in that his office continuously produced award-winning work from its inception to Ellwood's retirement.
A series of verbatim interviews with several of Ellwood's past associates' paints a generally unflattering picture of both Ellwood and in the process, the interviewees themselves. Much is made of Ellwood's high living style but in the end the reader learns very little of how he lived except for the foibles of his mid-life crisis. While the reader is regaled with carefully researched minutia like Ellwood's business telephone listings in the late 1940's, there are significant gaps in the story.
Missing entirely is any description of Ellwood's sense of humor, his visual sensibility, his methods of communication within his office or personal details like whether or not he lived in a house of his own design.
More than his associates and most of the architectural profession, Craig Ellwood knew how to create opportunities for good design and this is the critical distinction between those that rise to prominence and the 98+ percent of practitioners licensed (or unlicensed) that don't. In his pursuit of demeaning Craig's generally enviable career, the author has even stooped to suggest that publisher John Entenza's homosexuality might have been a factor in the consistent publication of Ellwood's work in Arts & Architecture magazine, as Craig was a strikingly handsome fellow.
A more logical explanation of the Jackson's seemingly prejudicial attitude may come from embarrassment at having devoted the predominately laudatory Chapters 5 & 6 in his previous book (The Modern Steel House. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York. 1996.) to Ellwood's work as a designer, only to later discover that the technical design of many of the projects could, well after the fact be attributed, in part or whole, to others.
Typographically this book is hard to read having been set in too light and too grey a typeface. It is poorly illustrated, the pictures being generally too small and lacking in descriptive quality.
This book is worth reading but should be taken with a grain of salt as the melancholy accounts of Ellwood's former employees, now claiming full responsibility for his genius, come more than 10 years after Ellwood's death.
Perhaps like Fred Astaire history will be kinder to Craig Ellwood.