Top critical review
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Perhaps one for Enthusiasts Only
on 25 September 2010
I enjoy Simon Schama's work very much. I loved his series on The Power of Art, and the book that went with it, and was utterly engrossed in his book on the French Revolution. This however, was an entirely different kettle of fish. In this book about our connection as a people with the landscape that surrounds us, our almost genetically coded ideas about the wilderness and our relationship with the land at an environmental, spiritual and national level I really struggled to connect with the material.
Half the problem was the massive weight of the book. It took me weeks to finish as it was a hardback, large format book coming in at nearly 900 pages, and was just far too big for me to carry around, as I do most books I am reading. This meant that I was confined to reading at home, preferably with a table underneath it to support its substantial weight.
The rest of my difficulties came from the fact that I struggled to find a coherent narrative which held the book together. There was definitely a coherent argument and set of ideas underpinning the material, but the sections of the book were not laid out particularly sympathetically to the reader struggling to find their way through the huge quantities of materials, sources, illustrations and notes.
There were some sections I enjoyed more than others. The section on the Anglo Saxon forests and their appropriation and abuse by the Norman aristocracy were fascinating, as was the section on the romantic idea of the mountains and the gradual touristification of the French Alps and Pyrenees. I struggled more with the sections on the Germanic walds and the American relationship with the wilderness, perhaps because I came to these areas with less prior knowledge of them.
The whole book was scholarly, erudite and lucid, but for me overwhelming as a book to try and read for pleasure. As a text book I imagine it is more useful, or for those with a good framework of existing knowledge on which to hang the material Schama offers in such quantities.