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Pevsner - The Early Life: Germany and Art
Pevsner - The Early Life: Germany and Art
by Stephen Games
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.74

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing read, 21 April 2010
This book defies any expectations you may have had about studies of the 1920s and 30s. Through the personality of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, it vividly brings to life issues that existed in Germany in the Weimar years and that came to the fore in the study of art and architecture history.

Why were rebellious young Germans obsessed by medievalism? What attracted them to bad Renaissance art? How did these two interests relate to the modern world? This book explains.

It also talks about the extraordinary dilemma that existed for Jews who wanted to be German, so they could escape from their Russian and Polish origins, but who could never be German enough to satisfy the German right.

Both as a study of Pevsner, the 20th century's most influential historian, and as a study of his times, this is a terrific book. I highly recommend it.


Sweet Songs of Zion
Sweet Songs of Zion
by John Betjeman
Edition: Hardcover

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The magic world of faith and doubt, 22 Oct 2007
This review is from: Sweet Songs of Zion (Hardcover)
Betjeman couldn't decide if he was a religious man or not. From his student days onwards he was always a member of the Church of England; he was also active on various parish councils, but he was constantly assailed by his own rationalism. What bothered him most was the question of what might happen to him after he died: it was an ugly choice - annihilation or hell.

In this amazing book, composed of almost 30 radio talks that he gave towards the end of his life, Betjeman finally found a way to come terms with the Church - by exploring it through the medium that he felt closest to: poetry - or, more exactly, the religious poetry of the hymn.

How did hymns come to be written? Who wrote them? What do they mean for the Christian faith? Over the course of three years, Betjeman looked at 200 of the nation's favourite hymns, which he arranged into 28 groupings, to show how words - and the music that goes with them - reaches and answers a need in the human soul in a way that nothing else can.

Hymns were written - over four centuries - by individuals who not only had nothing in common but might have been sectarian enemies. And yet the hymns they left behind sit beautifully together in the Church's many hymnals - testimony to the fact that beyond our personal struggles and enmities, there is a beauty and a unity that will not be suppressed by human failings.

This, as Stephen Games shows in his stunning introduction, is what Betjeman discovered while working on these scripts and what helped him come to terms with faith at the very darkest period in his life.

"Sweet Songs of Zion" is a fabulous book - and one made up of material that, until its publication, was still unheard of among Betjeman lovers and scholars alike.

No one can understand Betjeman, or fully enjoy him, without reading it - and it forms a spectacular finale to Stephen Games's two previous collections of his prose work: "Trains and Buttered Toast" and "Tennis Whites and Teacakes".

This is a must-read - and the perfect gift, Christmas and otherwise, for years to come.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2008 8:48 AM BST


Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
by John Betjeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The bible of Englishness, 26 Jun 2007
This is the most enjoyable Betjeman book I've ever read - a book that's so good, it ought to be part of the English Literature curriculum. More than that: it ought to be read by everyone applying for British citizenship! In the course of 360 pages, Betjeman plunges you into what he regarded as the major issues of English identity - issues of aesthetics, civic duty, relations with authority, and individuality.

I suppose that all these ideas are contained in Betjeman's poetry, but there one tends to get distracted into noticing rhythm and metre and scansion. And Betjeman's poetic ideas are smaller. Here, although the writing is often lyrical, he addresses topics in a much more direct way. He cares that unvalued townscapes are being destroyed, that there might be collusion between commercial interests and public officials, that the recent past and the middle brow are ignored by modern taste-makers. Especially in his earlier essays, he writes about these issues with passion and yet with a lightness of touch that engages the reader completely. Read this, and you cannot fail to agree that Betjeman stands as one of the foremost spokesmen of the twentieth century.

"Trains and Buttered Toast" (with its beautful cover design by Duff Tollemache) also shows that Betjeman was fascinated by individuals and individuality. He is correspondingly cruel about English stereotypes - the lumpen proletariat who, in the late 1940s, listened to popular music on car radios or went on holiday in luxury coaches. His point, however, is to criticise people's failure to open their eyes, ask original questions and discover fresh beauties - something he sees as the public's sheep instinct. The antidote, he suggests, is to look for inspiration at people who didn't go where everyone else went and who weren't damaged by commercial pressures and mass production. He finds his role models in Victoriana, an age that he regards as rich in the culture of individuality. Many of his talks explore this in its most extreme manifestation - in eccentricity and in provincialism. In fact, among the most entertaining talks in the entire book are those that look at individuals who dedicated themselves to the church. Never before Betjeman was there a literary category devoted to "West of England Victorian hymn-writing vicars". Now there is!

Spread a little happiness. Buy this book - and buy it for your friends. They'll love you for it: it's a total joy.


Tennis Whites and Teacakes
Tennis Whites and Teacakes
by John Betjeman
Edition: Hardcover

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A guidebook to Englishness, 17 Jun 2007
What a delicious book! "Tennis Whites and Teacakes" gathers Betjeman's thoughts on a range of subjects from childhood and school to girls and boys, friends and aristocrats, war and peace, holidays and travel, and church and belief. And you get much more than you were expecting: there's his trademark sentimentality - but Betjeman thought that sentimentality was good, and that forces you to reconsider your preconceptions. Then again, it's much sharper and more sceptical about Englishness than you might have guessed. Betjeman, for all his snobbery and fogeyness, had a keen eye, and he saw - and saw through - a lot that the heritage industry now expects us to lap up uncritically. One other thing that's surprising is his enthusiasm for aspects of the modern world - stuff that we've always understood he disapproved of. In short, this huge tome is a treasury of surprises - a real eye-opener. And there's masses inside it that's very relevant today too - articles about bullying, about Oxford's gay culture in the 1920s, about his refusal to fly the flag during the last war, and about the difficulty of belief in God, for example. If you thought Betjeman was just a poet, then read this and you'll find he's just as entertaining and thought-provoking as a journalist, a diarist and a correspondent. This book is a must-buy for anyone who wants to understand the patron saint of Englishness and England's national spirit in the 20th century.


Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
by John Betjeman
Edition: Hardcover

90 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new landmark in Betjeman studies, 24 Aug 2006
This is the most enjoyable Betjeman book I've ever read - a book that's so good, it ought to be part of the English Literature curriculum. More than that: it ought to be read by everyone applying for British citizenship! In the course of 360 pages, Betjeman plunges you into what he regarded as the major issues of English identity - issues of aesthetics, civic duty, relations with authority, and individuality.

I suppose that all these ideas are contained in Betjeman's poetry, but there one tends to get distracted into noticing rhythm and metre and scansion. And Betjeman's poetic ideas are smaller. Here, although the writing is often lyrical, he addresses topics in a much more direct way. He cares that unvalued townscapes are being destroyed, that there might be collusion between commercial interests and public officials, that the recent past and the middle brow are ignored by modern taste-makers. Especially in his earlier essays, he writes about these issues with passion and yet with a lightness of touch that engages the reader completely. Read this, and you cannot fail to agree that Betjeman stands as one of the foremost spokesmen of the twentieth century.

"Trains and Buttered Toast" (with its beautful cover design by Duff Tollemache) also shows that Betjeman was fascinated by individuals and individuality. He is correspondingly cruel about English stereotypes - the lumpen proletariat who, in the late 1940s, listened to popular music on car radios or went on holiday in luxury coaches. His point, however, is to criticise people's failure to open their eyes, ask original questions and discover fresh beauties - something he sees as the public's sheep instinct. The antidote, he suggests, is to look for inspiration at people who didn't go where everyone else went and who weren't damaged by commercial pressures and mass production. He finds his role models in Victoriana, an age that he regards as rich in the culture of individuality. Many of his talks explore this in its most extreme manifestation - in eccentricity and in provincialism. In fact, among the most entertaining talks in the entire book are those that look at individuals who dedicated themselves to the church. Never before Betjeman was there a literary category devoted to "West of England Victorian hymn-writing vicars". Now there is!

Spread a little happiness. Buy this book - and buy it for your friends. They'll love you for it: it's a total joy.


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