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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Copiously Illustrated Lucid and Enjoyable Text, 21 Oct 2014
This excellent book, `Virginia Woolf; Art, Life and Vision' was published to accompany the exhibition of the same name at the National Portrait Gallery 10th July to 26th October 2014. It would not be correct to refer to it as a catalogue, although it includes almost all the material shown in the exhibition, as this is a well rounded resume and narrative of the life, work and thoughts of Virginia Woolf. Francis Spalding, the author and curator of the exhibition, has done an excellent job in providing a lucid text accompanied by copious relevant illustrations that make this a most accessible and enjoyable read. I cannot emphasise enough how excellent are the photographs and reproductions and how relevant to the text, just always in the right place, no turning pages back and forth required. Whilst not an in-depth biography I suspect that this publication will fulfil the needs of many of those interested in Woolf and her work. The book also contains an illustrated chronology.
If you have missed or cannot make the exhibition then enjoy this excellent publication in the comfort of your own home. Thoroughly recommended and well up to the standard set by the NPG publication on the Sitwells in 1994.


God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain
God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain
by Rosemary Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderfully Balanced and Easy to Read Story of Pugin’s Life and Work, 14 Oct 2014
This will surely be the definitive biography on Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin for many years to come, a marvellous accomplishment. Rosemary Hill has written a wonderfully balanced and easy to read story of Pugin’s life and work in the clearest style possible; I had no need to re-read a single sentence in the whole 500 pages.
Hill demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of her subject and a wonderful scholarship of associated movements and fashions of the early 19th century. She is thus able to clearly demonstrate the context of Pugin’s views, publications and practical achievements. Of particular note is the author’s description of the growth of ‘Romantic Catholicism’ (a new term coined by the author) lead by the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot. This movement harked back to an imagined idyllic English form of pre-Reformation worship, simple, Catholic but retaining all the mystery and drama engendered by the rood screen, stained glass, low light and the Latin mass. This imagined past found itself in conflict with the intellectual thrust of Newman and the Oxford Movement and eventually the Church of Rome itself. Much of the published work of Pugin including his architectural and design pattern books, and his pamphlets, is centred on the forms of religious worship which were a subject of vital interest to people in the mid 1800s. Hill shows how Pugin’s ideas regarding aspects of Gothic architecture and design developed and changed as his knowledge and experience grew and that this restless and dynamic activity continued almost to the very end of his life.
Some aspects of the book are really quite melancholy as we see demonstrated over and again how this generous man freely shared his artistic creativity with others and seldom received either true recompense or recognition, the building of the Palace of Westminster and his work for Barry being, perhaps, the most notorious example.
The author is equally sensitive to Pugin’s character, the nature of his personal interactions with his sponsors and close knit circle of collaborators and manufacturers such as Hardman, Minton, Crace and Myers. Hill also describes very well the somewhat tortured domestic life of Pugin very well; his three marriages and failed love affairs and his attempts to achieve the ideal ‘Medieval’ domestic and spiritual abode.
Readers should be aware that this is far more than a book on Pugin’s contribution to architecture and the Gothic Revival but is a fully rounded and wonderfully absorbing biography of a dynamic, restless, driven personality brimming with ideas and creative talent. This excellent book is recommended to all with an interest in the Victorian age and its contribution to so much of the architecture that is around us today.


Ustasa: Croatian Fascism and European Politics, 1929-1945
Ustasa: Croatian Fascism and European Politics, 1929-1945
by Thomas Fleming
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.81

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superbly Readable and Lucid History of Modern Croatia, 9 Sep 2014
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This is an excellent book, in fact I would go so far to say that in terms of a clear historical narrative and ongoing political analysis I have rarely read better. The author, Serg Trifkovic, provides a brief introduction into the origins of bad feelings between the Croat establishment and the Serb settlers who were utilised in the 16th century for the defence of the Habsburg Empire. The Orthodox Serbs, having fled northwards to avoid the Ottomans, settled along the Sava River in the area of modern Croatia, then all part of Hungary. They were organised into a military zone of defence, ‘Militargrenze’, by the Hapsburgs. In return the Serb defenders were rewarded with special privileges that absolved them from rule by the local Croat aristocracy. Hence the beginnings of resentment between Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb in the region. Such resentment was given voice in the mid-19th century by fanatics like Ante Starcevic and this message later adopted by leaders such as Josip Frank and finally Ante Pavelic himself, the leader of the extreme nationalist Ustasa movement.
The author moves on to describe the Yugoslav experiment and the pre-war expatriate Ustasa movement in Fascist Italy lead by Pavelic. The opportunity arose with the invasion of Yugoslavia for the formation of an Independent Croatian Republic, NDH, and the installation of a ready made pro-Fascist government under Ante Pavelic. Trifkovic details the establishment of the NDH and its headlong rush to embark upon an anti-Serb, anti-Jew, anti-Roma campaign of extermination, prior to any input by the Nazis. The implications of this onslaught and resulting chaos and initiation of a consequential Serb counter insurgency are explained. The major difficulties presented to the occupying German and Italian forces and their contrasting approach makes fascinating reading. It is not often that Italian generals are so praised for their prescience and pragmatism.
As Axis fortunes turn with the defeats at Stalingrad and in North Africa so the situation in Croatia becomes increasingly difficult. The different forces now include the continuing operation of anti-Serb Ustasa death squads, Serbian Cetnik guerrillas and Serbian Communist Partisans under Tito. The position for the German occupiers was rendered impossible to control. The long painful decline and fall of the Axis empire and its collapse virtually upon the one remaining Nazis client state is charted together with the final Ustasa retreat and bloody reckoning by the Communist Partisans.
The author concludes with a melancholy resume of the rule of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and his anti-Serb purges of 1991-1995 which finally reduced the Serb population in Croatia to less than 5%, completing the work of Pavelic and the Ustasa. The author laments the readiness of Western politicians and leaders to plunge into Balkan affairs with little or no knowledge of preceding history or ethnic tensions. Perhaps the ill-informed Western media tendency to routinely blame the Serbs for most of the conflict in this area is not quite as just as we may think.
A superbly readable and lucid book, highly recommended to all interested in learning more about this troubled region. Definitely a volume for the Westminster Commons library.


Paris Between the Wars: Art, Style and Glamour in the Crazy Years
Paris Between the Wars: Art, Style and Glamour in the Crazy Years
by Vincent Bouvet
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Disappointing Text But Wonderful Illustrations, 30 Aug 2014
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This is a very nicely presented and copiously illustrated book. (It is also physically very heavy.) Translated from the original French the two authors cover almost all aspects of artistic life in Paris between the wars. Individual chapters cover the decorative arts, fashion, painting and sculpture, photography and cinema, writing, music, architecture and there are chapters on everyday life and the nightlife of the city. The translation is good and does not result in any meaningless sentences as occur in some other books in this Thames and Hudson series.
The very all-embracing nature of this book is, however, its downfall. The authors want to cram so much information into their chapters that any narrative is lost and the text often degenerates into a list or compendium of events. Because of this the book is probably best treated as a reference work to be dipped into to provide inspiration for further reading or research. Gerard Durozoi is an expert on the Surrealist Movement and it is perhaps for this reason that Surrealism and Dada receive more than adequate coverage, to the point of ennui, in a book that otherwise does little more than barely mention many artists or writers. You are often left feeling that you would like more depth and background to the key players and events and would happily forego the encyclopaedic nature of the text. Characterisation is absent. I found the chapter ‘City of Light’ on the Modern architectural movement and interior design the most satisfying.
Despite the critical comments noted above, this is a beautifully presented and lavishly illustrated book and is a good introduction to the subject matter reviewed. It is perhaps worth purchasing for these reasons alone.


A German Requiem
A German Requiem
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Detective Fiction of the Highest Order, 25 Aug 2014
This review is from: A German Requiem (Paperback)
This, the third in the ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy of novels featuring the German private detective Bernie Gunther, continues the excellent storytelling of author Philip Kerr. This novel, set in 1947 in the aftermath of the war and the beginnings of the fallout between the occupying Four Powers, starts in Gunther’s homebase of Berlin but then moves to Austria where he attempts to unravel a charge of murder against a wartime SS colleague. I will not attempt to describe the plot, I could not do it justice, suffice to say that it is complicated and as in other Kerr novels it develops real life events in an ingenious way. Again we meet senior Nazi figures and the background details of Four Power intrigue and black-marketeering are handled very well.
Whilst all Kerr’s writing and storytelling are excellent, I think this third volume of the Berlin trilogy shows greater maturity and skill than the two earlier works. The “Marlowe” effects are toned down a little and the historical figures are more convincing, but I would have no hesitation in recommending all three books to those who have a penchant for historical detective fiction of the highest order. An excellent book.


John Penn and Sons of Greenwich
John Penn and Sons of Greenwich
by R. Hartree
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars An Unhappy Blend of Engineering and Family History, 19 Aug 2014
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This book provides an outline history of the marine engineering firm of John Penn & Sons that had works in both Deptford and Greenwich from 1799 until 1911. The Greenwich factory sited on the corner of Blackheath Road and Lewisham Road and in which marine engines were built is, sadly, no more. The site is now home to a ubiquitous superstore. The Deptford factory where marine boilers were fabricated has faired a little better in that the landmark arched front of the building facing the Thames is listed and together with a side wall and some workshops at the rear still exists. A rather nice block of apartments forms a square inside the old works with a pristine white tower block alongside.
As the book explains John Penn & Sons was started by the founder John Penn and during its boom years run by him and his son John Penn II and his son in law William Hartree. The firm were notable for supplying small, high quality, low pressure oscillating steam engines and trunk steam engines to Admiralty vessels including gunboats. The peak years of production were 1850 to 1869, aided by the outbreak of the Crimean War. They were large, and by all accounts good, employers of local labour.
The development of these engines and in broad terms the growth and subsequent decline of the main factory are explained together with some details of the make-up of the main engine factory. There are no details concerning the boilermaking unit in Deptford. Interlaced with the marine engineering narrative are snippets of the family history in terms of births, marriages and deaths.
Whilst the book is of interest the author (a family descendent) cannot really make up his mind whether it is a family history or industrial history and the two narratives do not sit well together. A rather clumsy epilogue of the later family members, unconnected with the marine engineering works, is attached to the end of the book and will be of little interest to those attracted by the book’s title. There are errors both in the line map and one of the family trees provided and the writing style is not good. Production data tables and a number of illustrations are provided.


The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland
The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland
by Shlomo Sand
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vitally Important Book, 15 Aug 2014
This is an extremely important book and should be required reading for all who choose to comment on the present problems in the Middle East. Having said that, this is not an easy book to read. Shlomo Sand, the author, realises only too well that his text will be closely scrutinised for errors. To that end Sand’s research into the Old Testament and related Rabbinical works, not to mention actual archaeological and ethnological evidence, is meticulous and can make reading quite demanding at times particularly in the early chapters.
Sand attempts no less than to examine, and find wanting, the fundamental propositions of the modern Zionist movement. The author demonstrates that the Testament does not mention the ‘Land of Israel’ nor is there any historical evidence for such a place. He also demonstrates that the Jews were not dispersed from the Middle East but that the Diaspora are descended from conversions that took place in various early Jewish kingdoms in Africa, India and eastern Europe. Hence there can be no return of Jews who never left, to a land that never existed, thus undermining the basic premise of modern Zionism and the original justification for the occupation of Palestine. Sand acknowledges the deep religious attachment of Jews to the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular, but this in no way can establish a right of ownership or return.
Sand, like a number of other modern Israeli scholars, acknowledges the forced expulsion of the indigenous Arab population during the creation of the state of Israel and the ongoing system of Apartheid for Israeli Arabs. He gives a very moving account of the history of the Arab village of al-Sheikh Muwannis on top of which has been built the University of Tel Aviv where the author works.
It is inevitable that anyone who undermines the political mythmaking of the Zionist movement, perpetrated by both the early Left settlers and the present nationalist Right, in Israel will attract the convenient epithet of being an anti-Semite. However, Sand is definitely not anti-Semitic but demonstrates a deep concern for the state of Israel and its future but refuses to acquiesce in lies in order to justify its existence. At no time does he advocate the dismemberment of Israel.
A vitally important book but one which I confidently predict will be ignored by Western leaders and media commentators. However, concerned individuals now have access to a totally convincing analysis of the mythmaking of the Zionist project. I commend this book to all concerned about the current problems of the Middle East.


The Pale Criminal[ THE PALE CRIMINAL ] By Kerr, Philip ( Author )Jul-01-2005 Paperback
The Pale Criminal[ THE PALE CRIMINAL ] By Kerr, Philip ( Author )Jul-01-2005 Paperback
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Berlin Thriller But With Some Flaws, 5 Aug 2014
Having greatly enjoyed Kerr’s first book in the ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy, ‘March Violets’, I was looking forward to his second book, ‘The Pale Criminal’. This book is again set in Berlin, having now moved forward to 1938, and the hero Bernie Gunther is called upon by the authorities to investigate a series of murders of young blonde German girls.
The plot is complicated and ingenious and again the evocation of the Berlin street scene and atmosphere is good. As in his previous book Kerr has incorporated real events into his narrative, which, I suspect, is exactly what fans of Bernie Gunther novels are looking for. I do, however, have some criticisms of this particular work. The author rather over indulges in a section of the book in graphic descriptions of sexual abuse. These descriptions are distinctly modern and grate somewhat with the general tone of the book and would have been better alluded to rather than described. My second misgiving echoes that mentioned in my review of ‘March Violets’. I find, having read a fair amount of history, that the relationship between Himmler and Heydrich suggested in the book is jarringly inaccurate and that the tendency suggested by Kerr for Heydrich to confide personal views to junior police officers would be highly unlikely, particularly where this involved critical comments about other senior officials including Himmler himself. These factors tended to reduce my confidence in the research that has gone into the book and detracted from my enjoyment. If you are going to suggest veracity in the historic background then you should maintain that position. Inventing conversation is one thing, character distortion is quite another.
The book is very well written and constructed and generally very enjoyable but with the misgivings noted above.


The Place to Spend a Happy Day: A History of Rosherville Gardens
The Place to Spend a Happy Day: A History of Rosherville Gardens
by Lynda Smith
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched, Vivid and Highly Entertaining, 30 July 2014
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A superb little booklet, well written and extensively researched, by Lynda Smith of the Gravesend Historical Society. The Rosherville Gardens were first brought to my attention when reading the ‘pseudo’ Victorian novel, ‘Fanny By Gaslight’ by Michael Sadleir (1940), in which the heroin, Fanny Hooper, is taken by her beaux a number of times to the said gardens. I wondered if they really existed and was delighted to find that they had and that this excellent booklet described them in detail. The gardens were founded in March 1837 by an entrepreneur George Jones and only finally closed, following a long period of decline, in 1924 after providing pleasure to many for over 70 years. They were built in a chalk pit close to the Thames near Gravesend. The author has researched many old newspapers, theatrical journals and old guide books to provide this fascinating and detailed history of the gardens, the wide range of entertainment provided and many first hand recollections of what it was like. The text provides a very vivid and entertaining description of the pleasure gardens and is adequately supplemented by a number of black and white illustrations. Sadly Rosherville Gardens, like the Cremorne Gardens and Vauxhall Gardens, is no more but we can have the great pleasure of reading about it thanks to this excellent publication. Highly recommended to all interested in Victorian endeavours.


Loos
Loos
by August Sarnitz
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Easy to Comprehend But Good Plates, 28 July 2014
This review is from: Loos (Paperback)
This monograph in the Taschen series on architects follows the usual format of a short introduction followed by black and white and colour plates. These illustrate the important buildings and interiors designed by Adolf Loos. However, this particular volume reproduces two articles published by Loos, ‘The Poor Little Rich man’ (1900) and ‘Ornament and Crime’ (1908). These key articles layout in somewhat obtuse terms, rather like parables, his views on interior decoration and ornament, that is his dislike of ornament. The pieces are presented without elaboration and you have to read the introduction very carefully to understand what is going on.
Adolf Loos was a very early practitioner of what later became known as the Modern movement. In fact Loos bridges the gap between traditionalist Beidermeier interiors and the later ‘stripped-down’ buildings of the Bauhaus, Mendelsohn and many more. The villas of Loos often exhibit austere rectangular exteriors with minimal decoration and flat roofs but the interiors consist of wood panelling, heavy furniture and much drapery and, later, exotic facing materials such as expensive marble and rare woods. Later houses also exhibit the practice of ‘Raumplan’ expoused by Loos whereby rooms not only have different floor sizes depending upon their importance but also different ceiling heights. The Villa Muller (1928-30), Prague, being a particularly notable example of this practice. It was the exterior appearance of the gentleman’s outfitters built for Golman and Salatsch (1909-11) opposite the Hofburg on Michaelerplatz, Vienna, that first brought Loos to prominence. The recessed windows devoid of decoration were considered to be revolutionary at the time. Here again, the building has a pitched roof and heavy interiors that are by no means Modernist but the beginnings of the transition in style are there.
The plates and discussion of the buildings are very good but the book is a little difficult to navigate in terms of understanding the ideas of the man. I felt better illuminated after a short browse on Google. Adolf Loos had an interesting and rather sad personal life which, by the nature of the monograph, is ignored here except for a few notes in the timeline at the end of the book. This rather leaves you wanting to know more about the man and his circle.


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