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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pre-eminent Victorian
Rosemary Hill's masterly life of Augustus Pugin is quite the best biography I have read for many years. Pugin was not high on my list of eminent Victorians. Thanks to her, he is now. An extraordinary creature, prodigious, amazingly precocious, wilful, cantankerous and quirky to an extreme; a figure that certainly belies the canard that men of his time were frock-coated...
Published on 21 May 2009 by M. J. Corbett

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26 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wrong format
I believe that this book's main fault is that it is in the wrong format i.e. a paper back with too many words and not enough photgraphs.

As a previous reviewer has stated Pugin's personal life was rather uneventful (except for his final descent into insanity) and certainly not interesting enough to fill a 500 page biography. Also I found the long accounts of...
Published on 8 Feb. 2009 by E. Carter


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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pre-eminent Victorian, 21 May 2009
By 
M. J. Corbett "Sardanapalus" (Alicante, Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Hardcover)
Rosemary Hill's masterly life of Augustus Pugin is quite the best biography I have read for many years. Pugin was not high on my list of eminent Victorians. Thanks to her, he is now. An extraordinary creature, prodigious, amazingly precocious, wilful, cantankerous and quirky to an extreme; a figure that certainly belies the canard that men of his time were frock-coated and bewhiskered prigs.
Hill is most persuasive in her argument that Pugin was the seminal figures in the Gothic Revival and she brings to her task wide historical leaning and broad cultural interest, all presented with an easy elegance not always found in works so immaculate in scholarship and documentation. In the publishing bonanza of recent years, lucidity and precision so often is lost in the rush to get the latest volume into the current lists. Her book, in this, as in all other respects, is exceptional.
I have only one grouse, and a trifling one at that: the book needed more copious illustration. It is a comment upon the enthusiasm which Hill provokes that I longed to behold each rood screen, choir stall and chasuble she describes in something other than my mind's eye. Of course, such a book would be well beyond my and many another reader's pocket. We will have to be content with the finely chosen illustrations which economy has allowed us
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply superb, 16 Sept. 2008
By 
PBL (London, UK) - See all my reviews
One of the best biographies i have ever read. Beautifully written and fascinating even for someone like me who had little previous interest in either architecture or the nineteenth century.
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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE MAN WHO DESIGNED BIG BEN, 26 Aug. 2007
By 
Dr. S. J. Wyatt (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Hardcover)
This is a superb biography. If you're interested in the history of English architecture and interior design then this book is unmissable. But Hill's vivid and rich portrait of a complex and driven man, whose ideas were highly influential but whose projects were often blighted, deserves to be read by a much wider readership. Witty, wise, often moving and always informative, GOD'S ARCHITECT is a great read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank God for Pugin, 15 Sept. 2009
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Mr. David N. Palmer (Old Portsmouth) - See all my reviews
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An excellent biography - Rosemary Hill really brings Pugin alive as if he were a contemporary. I haven't been able to put this book down since I first opened it.

David Palmer
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A scholarly biography which is also an absorbing tale, 31 Jan. 2012
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When I ordered this book I am ashamed to admit that I had only the sketchiest knowledge of Pugin - I had vague ideas about his involvement in the design of the Houses of Parliament and Victorian churches, and his association with the Oxford Movement, and imagined him in my ignorance to be some sort of consumptive intellectual. Of course, I know now that I was hopelessly wrong in my woolly assumptions! But I wanted to fill in this gap in my knowledge, and this book not only told me everything that I could want to know about Pugin and his life and career, but what is even better, made an entertaining and absorbing story of it. I really could not put the book down - I read far too late into the night several times, which is not what you would necessarily expect of a biography of an eminent Victorian, especially one who was an architect and designer. I learned that not only was Pugin a most fascinating individual, a complete maverick, and unconventional in so many ways - a real character - but also quite amazingly talented, often misunderstood, and a man who in a lot of ways led quite a sad, although pretty eventful, life. Rosemary Hill skilfully tells the tale of his personal life and relationships as well that of his professional one - they are really quite inextricable - and also puts his work in the context of what was happening in the world of design and architecture around him. His is the story of a genius manqué which really should be better known as he had such a huge and continuing influence, often unacknowledged, on his contemporaries and those who came after him.

I can highly recommend this book, and not just to those who are knowledgeable and interested in architecture and design. I certainly didn't think I was interested in the former before I read this book, but reading Pugin's story has quite changed my mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb account of a brief but spectacular life, 27 Feb. 2012
What Rosemary Hill achieves in this book is remarkable. Pugin fitted more into 40 years than most people could achieve in double that time. He lived through a time of rapid change, and to a degree helped shape that change. The Victorian civic architecture of the 2nd half of the 19th Century is in no small part due to Pugin's influence.

Hill makes an excellent job of helping us to understand the factors that formed Pugin the man. Shaped by his influences Pugin soon forged his own course. His religion and his work going hand in hand. This is no hagiography. Hill shows that Pugin was not always a sympathetic character, and his treatment of Mary Amherst after the break-up of their affair was harsh and unpleasant to say the least. Yet through it all we see a man who inspired incredible devotion from his friends. A genius, flawed perhaps, but nontheless a genius whose early death was an incalculable loss.

Others came after Pugin. Arguably others implemented his vision better than Pugin himself. We shall never know what the mature Pugin might have given us. We are left with many flashes of genius and hints of what could have come next. The strength of Rosemary Hill's book is that it leaves us wanting more, and the pangs of regret that come with knowing that there is no more.

I loved reading about Pugin, and through this book I learned to appreciate his work and the broader worlds of 19th architecture, politics and religion. Kudos to Rosemary Hill!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Churches have never turned my head - they will now, 31 Aug. 2012
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An extraordinarily enlightening and precious biography because it not only lets you in to Pugin's mind, life and works, but it also paints such a complete and fascinating picture of early nineteenth century life during his time. We learn of the trials and tribulations that a talented Pugin went through to get any form of recognition, how hard he had worked all his short life to the cost of his family and himself, and especially how he had to contend with the ups and (more often) downs. We learn of the Catholic struggle to finally become re-accepted in English society and efforts to take advantage over the Protestants when they could; it could all have ended so differently. This was a privilege to read. If I ever have to clear my bookshelves, this one will stay.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A.W. Pugin : A Man of Contrasts; A Man of Genius, 4 Jun. 2012
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This monumental work of Rosmary Hill must be the definitive biography of that romantic Christian visionary, Pugin. What is so remarkable about her book is the way she draws in some detail the historical context of her subject, giving him a truly three dimensional quality.

I am not sure that it was possible to divide his private life from his public interest as architect, designer and polemicist. The fact that as a Catholic convert he so strongly believed that medaeval Gothic represented the highroad to a true Catholic architecture, ascribing as Pagan anything diriving from Vitruvius, effectively meant that his personal convictions drove his architectural standpoint. At all events this author does not attempt to separate into different chapters his leisure interests and love life from his professional practice and so, every so often, we have to be prepared to be jerked on the same page from somewhat highbrow matters into sentimental affairs of the heart !

There is so much ground covered in this densely written, well researched work. Who would imagine, for instance, that while designing interior details for the Palace of Westminster for Sir Charles Barry, our hero is concerned with salvaging 18 tons of Russian tallow with a purpose-bought longboat called Caroline ? Although now best known for this collaboration with Barry when he got little money and even less credit at the time, Pugin had several aristocratic patrons, the most important being the Catholic Lord Shrewsbury. Pugin had a favorite builder in George Myers, and was loyal to a number of suppliers : John Hardman for metalwork and latterly stained glass; Herbert Minton for ceramics, especially encaustic tiles; J Gregory Crace for textiles and wallpapers.

A great many pages are devoted to ecclesiastical matters that were of profound ground-shattering significance at the time but which now in this relatively agnostic age seem of little relevance ! Pugin as a Catholic convert was always friendly towards the movers and shakers of the Anglican High Church Movements hoping that ultimately a reconcialition with Rome would be found. So we hear much about the Tractarians, and Puseyites that animated the Oxford movement, and the Camden Society, originally formed to study Church architecture, which originated in Cambridge.

Pugin expounded his appreciation of pointed medaeval architecture in "Contrasts" where he compared it favorably to the increasingly debased Pagan works that had come back into favour since the Renaissance. Later came "True Principles" which opened up the possibilities for architects to tamper with Gothic. Gothic could now evolve provided the external and internal appearance of an edifice was illustrative and in accordance with the purpose for which it was designed. I make these points here because these treatises proved to be very influential and helped bring about the Gothic revival of the High Victorian Era with architects like Street, Scott and William Butterfield carrying the flame of pointed architecture onto every High Street in the country.

Pugin died at forty, insane, having married three times and professionally having achieved so much. He could be witty : "Being an architect to one grate or fireplace is worse than keeping a fishstall !" However he often drove others as hard as himself, was sometimes undiplomatic and certainly made some enemies.

All in all Rosemary Hill has written an astonishing biography. It makes for an excellent read in its own right, but it is particularly recommended as background reading for architectural students, students of social history, and indeed seminarians preparing for ordinatiion ! There is a comprehensive compilation of Pugin's executed works at the end of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A master-work of a biography, 21 May 2012
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This is rare book indeed. Most biographers paint a single picture of their subject as either saint or monster (depending on what sells books)and miss the complex multi-faceted and ever changing nature of humanity. This is especially true when dealing with a genius like Pugin. Hill manages rise above her subject-matter and be objective without losing the narrative or becoming boring. We are drawn into the story of a talented individual with a unique vision, but Hill never loses sight of his failings and the impact on those around him. She is never judgmental and leaves the reader to form their own conclusions.

On the troubled matter of the Houses of Parliament, she is superb. Whilst the whole truth will never be known, it's absolutely clear that Barry saw Pugin as a highly valued (although poorly rewarded) sub-contractor. As Hill makes clear, there was probably no one else on the planet who could have produced the designs as quickly and as perfectly as he, but his erratic health and behaviour as well as his ability to make enemies mean that his could only ever be a supporting role. It's a complex picture but the building we see now is truly Barry and Pugin's work not one or the other.

Hill has done a superb job in collating her facts and is not frightened to say what we simply cannot know due to the passage of time and lack of information. Overall this is a great read and will leave you wanting to see more of his work.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A love-hate relationship with both Pugin and the book., 23 Feb. 2009
By 
Clare Topping (Northamptonshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

This is clearly a well researched and competently written book. The author is obviously interested in her subject and is trying to present the whole of Pugin and his career without putting too much emphasis on his participation in the design of the Houses of Parliament.

At times, the book is heavy going, as one other reviewer pointed out, there is a lot written about his religious beliefs. That said, it may just be that from a twenty first century perspective, it is difficult to appreciate how important religion was to much of the population in the early Victorian age.

This is definitely not a book that you can dip in and out of and I found that I got more from it when I read larger chunks at a time, allowing me to get to know the bit part players. When I read small sections I found it difficult to keep up with the different protagonists and whether they were Catholic, Protestant or undecided (although I found I sometimes didn't care any more).

For such a long biography, there is little about his family. Once his parents and aunt have died, others get little page space, although friends and acquaintances feature a little more. My main criticism however, is the lack of photos. This is a biography about a man whose ideals were supposed to be reflected in his architecture and interior designs, yet for such a prolific workaholic there are too few pictures of either the finished article or the many designs not realised.

On a similar point I found a lot of the architectural terms confusing. Not knowing anything about architecture prior to reading this book, I would have liked a little more explanation of perpendicular and decorative styles, naves and chancels etc, not to mention rood screens which either the author or Pugin (or both) seemed a little obsessed with.

On the plus side, having read this book I feel I know much more about the man and the early Victorian period. I have been motivated to find out more about architecture and have started looking at churches in a different light. I was undecided whether to give it three or four stars, but overall found it an enjoyable read about a subject not often tackled. It would definitely have rated five stars if there were more pictures and a little more architectural explanation.
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God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain
God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain by Rosemary Hill (Hardcover - 2 Aug. 2007)
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