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Lancelot 'Capability' Brown: The Omnipotent Magician, 1716-1783 Paperback – 1 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (1 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845951794
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845951795
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.8 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 214,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Brown's book is a good read" (Jane Owen Financial Times)

"Jane Brown has dug deep into the archives and has written an exhaustive and beautifully illustrated biography that has been long overdue... Those who love his gardens...will be delighted with this book" (Andrea Wulf Mail on Sunday)

"Robust and revealing" (Independent)

"Her book should find a home in any garden-lovers' glove compartment , offering a detailed map of Lancelot's England" (Spectator)

"Sympathetic, beautifully illustrated study" (Maggie Fergusson Intelligent Life)

Book Description

The first fully-rounded biography of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the genius who created the English landscape garden.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mr. R. T. Bowes on 12 Nov 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read this out of professional necessity, and found it extremely hard going. Jane Brown really cannot write with any kind of sparkle and the book gets bogged down in far too many unnecessary details far too often. There are isolated sections where the pace picks up, but they are all too few.

It is often said that biographers fall in love with their subjects sooner or later and this is certainly true with this author. Ms. Brown pours scorn on the theory that Mr. Brown was illegitimate, dismissing this completely out of hand because she so obviously and desperately wants it not to be the case. So she "sets out in search of Brown's mother" and doesn't find anything to prove Lancelot's legitimacy, yet obviously believes what she writes in her own desire to do so. The mystery over Lancelot's parentage is simply glossed over, although Ms. Brown believes that she has convinced her readers that Lancelot was of legitimate birth. The truth is that this will never be known one way or another. His legitimacy was and always will be questionable, but Ms. Brown refuses to consider other views.

She also tries desperately to discredit the origins of his widely known tag of "Capability", trying to persuade herself and us that this moniker was only applied to him after his death, when it is well known that Brown was referred to in Lord Cobham's diaries as "The very capable Mr. Brown" during his early years at Stowe (and Ms. Brown simply refuses to even discuss the idea that the man himself was wont to describe landscapes as having "capabilities", not that any further credence to this oft-repeated urban myth is needed anyway).
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Suyderhoud on 11 Jun 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jane Brown has added another book on gardeners and gardening on her curriculum. Her first books on Gertrude Jekyll and on English Garden Design in the 20th Century are in my view still her best. Why has Brown this time selected Lancelot "Capability" Brown? Jane states, in her Prologue, that Dorothy Stroud with her book on "Capability" Brown of 1950 (with revisions in 1975 and 1984) has resurrected Brown and none of the hundreds of thousands of words that have followed - including mine- could have been written without her. Comparing both books I come to the following conclusion: If you are interested in the life of Lancelot Brown, than Jane's book gives much more and detailed information, although presented in a less coherent manner. As an example, the family tree on the first pages presents a daughter of Lancelot out of wedlock, this is only explained in the last pages of the book. But if you want to know the importance and achievements of Brown as Landscape Architect and Gardener of the 18th Century, than Dorothy's book is by far still the best on this subject.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By F. M. Stockdale on 10 Mar 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a most interesting and well-written account of Capability Brown's life, and highly recommended not only to those interested in landscape gardening, but also to those who enjoy good biographies.
The key of course is in the writing - the most fascinating life can be made unapproachable by turgid prose. This book takes us steadily and amusingly through Brown's extraordinarily successful progress, transforming the exhausted and ill-kept 'Versailles-style' gardens of the late 17thC into glorious new countryside vistas thanks to his early training in the vital skills of lake-making and landscaping.
In particular the book steadily demolishes the old complaint that Brown destroyed wonderful tree-scapes in the course of his work - no one can compute the millions of new trees planted on his instructions, and many of his great parks (Petworth,Stowe, Sledmere, Harewood, Chatsworth, Broadlands, Alnwick) are thriving today, and it also highlights his respect for fine earlier work - for example at Wrest Park where he refused to alter the existing unimprovable layout.
Like all good biographies, while ostensibly about his life's work, it is also very interesting on the politics of the time (which of course affected his clients' ability to engage in major works) and on his personal life, which turns out to have been more complicated than he might have wanted us to know.
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Format: Hardcover
The author has written an impressive number of books on gardening in England, and she now turns to look at the country’s most renowned landscape visionary. Visit any of England’s large houses and there is a good chance that at some point they received advice and visits (often numerous) from Lancelot Brown; indeed the amount of work he did was prodigious, and Jane Brown narrates his peripatetic life on the road as goes from wealthy patron to wealthy patron, transforming the grounds of England’s largest houses. Starting from modest circumstances in the isolated north of the country, his reputation grew until he was courted by monarchs and nobility for his advice and the enjoyment of his congenial company. Lancelot did not leave a mass of documentary material, and so most of the book is devoted to the evidence as it exists on the ground - with his lakes, undulating lands and patterns of planting. He was at the forefront of the movement away from strict formalism in gardens, to the sweeping, romantic approach, with occasional Gothic decoration features, to landscape design. This is an impressively comprehensive and knowledgeable work on Lancelot Brown and ends with the surprising assessment that the devoted family man may also have fathered a child out of marriage.
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