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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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A Victorian Obsession, the Perez Simon Collection at Leighton House Museum
A Victorian Obsession, the Perez Simon Collection at Leighton House Museum
by Veronique Gerard-Powell
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully Produced and Exceptionally Well Written Art Book, 11 Dec 2014
This is a beautifully produced and exceptionally well written book. This catalogue was produced to accompany the Perez Simon Collection of Victorian paintings exhibited at the Leighton House Museum in late 2014 and January 2015. The exhibition was previously exhibited in Paris, Rome and Madrid.
The catalogue contains three introductory essays on the Perez Simon Collection, the British art market and Frederic Leighton in whose magnificent house in Kensington the exhibition took place. These essays are short, very well written, and completely straightforward and factual and mercifully free of the gobbledegook beloved by contemporary art commentators. There follows reviews and short biographical notes on the nineteen artists and 52 works of art displayed at the exhibition. Many of the paintings were previously owned by northern industrialists and ship owners of the Victorian age before passing out of the country and have not been seen for many years. The collection contains some iconic images of the late Victorian age. The author of these very informative and factual notes is Veronique Gerard-Powell, a distinguished author of various books on art. This expertise is evident in the artistic commentary on the exhibits and the biographical notes which is some of the best writing I have read in any art catalogue in recent years. The commentary is accompanied by full page colour plates of excellent quality of all the paintings in the exhibition and also by full page photographs of almost all the artists.
This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue is a ‘must’ for all lovers of Victorian art. My one small criticism is that the catalogue, which is softbound, is quite expensive at the full price but you do get a lot for your money.


1788: The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet
1788: The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet
by David Hill
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating History of the First Fleet and the Establishment of Sydney, 1 Dec 2014
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Unlike a number of the Australian reviewers of this book I live in England. My interest was sparked by seeing a play, ‘Our Country’s Good’ by T. Wertenbaker, based on a real life event that took place in Sydney colony in June 1789. Governor Phillip allowed convicts to stage a production of, ‘The Recruiting Officer’. The modern play portrays many of the key characters of the new penal settlement both from the military and the convicts themselves including the infamous Mary Bryant. The play examines the redeeming qualities of drama and examines the attitudes of many of the key characters mentioned in this book. (Governor Phillip comes off slightly less well in the book compared to the play.)
It is clear that David Hall has undertaken a good deal of research in order to produce this detailed and well written narrative of the journey of the First Fleet to establish a penal settlement in Sydney, Australia. Hill draws a very good picture of life aboard the ships and of the enlightened attitude of Captain (Governor) Phillip. He goes on to describe very clearly problems associated with trying to establish a settlement on the inhospitable shores of Sydney harbour and the Herculean efforts to provide an adequate supply of food. (The astonishingly inaccurate information supplied by Captain Cook’s botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who enjoyed a totally unblemished reputation, is quite shocking.)
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the book was to learn that sailing ships often had to make the most amazing and unexpected detours in order to find satisfactory winds to reach a given destination. Who would have expected ships to regularly sail to Brazil as a means of reaching South Africa in order to avoid the becalming breezes associated with the west African coastline? I was also shocked by the number of instances of ships being lost by breaking on reefs, hitting icebergs or losing most of their crew to disease or scurvy.
The author provides fascinating information on the private lives of many on this expedition and what happened to them in later years. The tale ends with the return of Phillip to England leaving the reader wanting to know more, especially about the rule of William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) as Governor and the rebellion that took place in 1808. This is an interesting and well written book and is commended to all those interested in the establishment of the first settlement in Australia and the hardships of the First Fleet. A useful chronology of events is included. My one minor criticism is the absence of a map or two that would have facilitated following the voyages of the numerous ships involved in establishing and supplying the settlement.


The One From The Other: A Bernie Gunther Novel: A Bernie Gunther Mystery (Bernie Gunther Mystery 4)
The One From The Other: A Bernie Gunther Novel: A Bernie Gunther Mystery (Bernie Gunther Mystery 4)
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Bernie Gunther Novel Which Will Not Disappoint, 25 Nov 2014
This excellent work, the fourth in the Bernie Gunther series of eponymous detective books by the novelist Philip Kerr takes place in the 1949 post-war Europe of the Four Great Occupying Powers. I do not wish to spoil this really well constructed and wholly credible story for readers but suffice to say the action starts in the American sector of Munich and gravitates towards Vienna and other Austrian towns. The background of frenetic reconstruction work in the Western occupied sectors, the approaching Cold war, de-Nazification and retribution is evoked very well by Kerr. Fans of the Bernie Gunther novels will enjoy the trademark detailed place descriptions and scene setting, the prevailing atmosphere of menace and intrigue and the recognition of real life historic characters who make an appearance in the story. Clear lucid text, fast moving and totally gripping.
For me, one of the best stories so far in this series, and a delight for all existing fans of Bernie Gunther and a real treat for new readers interested in superior detective stories set in the 1940s war-torn Europe.


Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love
Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love
by James Booth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book But By No Means Easy, 17 Nov 2014
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This is a good book, and an interesting book, but readers should know that it is really quite a difficult read in parts; that is, difficult in terms of comprehension, not in emotional terms. James Booth, who was in the Department of English at the University of Hull and who has written critical studies of Larkin's work in the past, is well suited to the task of chronicling the life and work of Larkin. Booth provides a straightforward narrative of Larkin's early life and education and the influence of his accomplished father and trips to Germany. He tells of the lifelong relationships formed at Oxford, particularly with Kingsley Amis and Bob Conquest and of the various career moves, if they may be called that, to Belfast and Hull. Naturally all this is overlaid with the other major influences on Larkin's life and poetry, namely his various girlfriends. Much space is given to his lifelong relationship with Monica Jones, and also with Maeve Brennan and latterly Betty Mackereth, as well as other early loves.
Much of the early part of the book deals with Larkin's prose work which is, perhaps, less familiar to many of his admirers. The author is well placed to provide a fair and extensive review of this work which he seems to conclude is rather good. The difficulty referred to above arises from the academic analysis of the poetry of Larkin which, of course, takes place throughout the work with several chapters devoted entirely to such dissection. I feel certain that Booth has done an excellent job and that his analyses will be of great value to students of Larkin's work. However, not being in possession of a degree in English, this can be very heavy going and many of the `technical' terms were beyond me.
It should be said that Booth does an excellent job so that I rather fancied I was getting quite close to Larkin's character and emotions and felt a great affinity for the poet.
I would recommend this work rather than the earlier biography by Andrew Motion. Larkin was a man of robust and often contradictory private views on many subjects, certainly not a devotee of the Left. Booth takes this largely in his stride whereas Motion is often left sprawling and constantly disapproving which can be tiresome. A good book, well worth reading but by no means easy.


Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.30

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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: £19.09

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.


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