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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, poor edition, 20 Aug 2007
Paul Magnussen (Campbell, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Art of Flamenco (Paperback)

This review applies to the 2005 edition of the book, but it may also appear in listings for other editions. In the latter case, only the remarks about "Background" and "Contents" apply. In particular, the remarks about typos and photographic quality do not apply to earlier editions.


Few books in the Arts can have had an impact on their subject matter to compare with that of this seminal opus. Since its first appearance in 1962, when it was unrivalled for authority, readability and depth of coverage, it must have been the passport to Flamenco for literally thousands of readers.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Donn Pohren is* an American who came to Spain in the 1950's and fell in love both with Flamenco and with the young dancer Luisa Maravilla, whose arresting picture has adorned the cover of most editions of this book, including the present one. The Art of Flamenco, which explains not only the art but the underlying culture, became an immediate success, garnering praise from such luminaries as Carmen Amaya and winning the Spanish National Flamenco Award from the Catedra de Flamencología. It was followed in due course by Lives and Legends of Flamenco — an encyclopædia, not so much of the art as of its artists (and still by far my favourite reference); and by A Way of Life. The latter is an autobiographical account of the author's involvement in Flamenco and of the artists he knew — especially the old-time guitarist Diego del Gastor. Diego was catapulted from purely local reputation to international celebrity by Pohren's citing him, in his accounts, as an exemplar of purity in a sea of commercialism, and by the author's subsequent hiring of him as a teacher for the flamenco courses at the Finca Espartero in Morón de la Frontera.


The present book is divided into four parts:

I. The Philosophy of Flamenco

contrasts, with many anecdotes, the traditional flamenco way of life with that of the encroaching modern civilisation.

II. The Art of Flamenco

describes its origin and background, and passes to descriptions of its components — song, guitar, dance, jaleo and so forth — and concludes with sections on Flamenco and the Non-Spaniard.

III. Encyclopedia of Flamenco

discusses the verses and genealogy of the cante (song), before presenting a description of each individual style, with typical verses. (It is perhaps worth noting that no attempt is made anywhere to present musical notation).

IV Appendices

giving a breakdown of the song, dance and guitar; listings of recordings of interest and flamenco venues; a discussion of guitar construction; and advice on learning Flamenco, both in and outside of Spain.


I don't have a first edition to hand here, so I use as a basis for comparison the third edition of 1972.

The proclamation "31 New Pages of Updates" on the cover may give the impression of a few tacked-on afterwords, but in fact this is a very thorough job of updating. There are indeed afterwords, and by and large the text follows that of previous editions, but where necessary it has been amended — for instance, in lists of artists, or where legal or social situations have changed. (I notice even that "gay, [or] dull" (p.266) has been altered to "sparkling, dull", in line with shifting usage.) The addenda are just as sharply observed and useful as the original text.

The new edition comprises 366 pages as opposed to the 232 of my 3rd edition, but the increase is due in part to the new one's being set in a larger typeface. However, many sections are new or completely revised: for instance that on learning Flamenco, to take account of the advent of video instruction. On the debit side, many of the best photographs (including those of Famous Artists of the Past) have disappeared (as, irritatingly, has the index to the Encyclopedia section).


The most obvious change is the replacement of the cover photograph of Donn's wife Luisa by a drawing taken from it. The drawing is skillful (and has the approval of Donn & Luisa), but it doesn't have the impact of the original, which I would guess helped the sales of the early editions considerably. A glance inside gives a possible reason for this substitution: the quality of all the photographs is very much lower than in older editions (although an enclosed note from the publisher says that they are attempting to remedy this for future editions). This is not entirely compensated by the replacement of the hand-drawn diagrams (such as the lineage of the Ortega dynasty) by tidy computer-generated graphics.

Even more annoying, however, are the typos — the book is riddled with them. The nature of many (such as "caj6n" for "cajón" (p.168), "compaiiera" for "compañera" (p.178) and "Alcalci" for "Alcalá", (p.192)) leads me to guess that they arise from scanning in a previous edition and then using a text-capture program such as Adobe Acrobat®. But be that as it may, while a computer spelling-checker may not catch mistakes like "tact" for "fact" (p.103), it should certainly catch "regretlully", and even "flameco" (!).

Although most such errors may be obvious in the English text, those who try, on the basis of the Bibliography, to purchase Paul Hecht's "The Wind Cries" are unlikely to succeed. And readers whose Spanish is less than fluent may get confused indeed: in the three verses of bamberas on p. 179 alone (for example), there are five spelling mistakes.


In terms of content, then, I have no hesitation in recommending this edition as a first-rate job. The poor proof-reading and photographs are another matter; whether you purchase or decide to wait until next time around may depend on how irritating you find such things.


In a letter printed in the July 2006 issue of "Classical Guitar" magazine, the publishers stated: "... we are currently discussing with the printer ways to improve the quality of the photographs and keep the price down. The typos were the result of a rushed production to meet the demands of our customers, and likewise will be dealt with at the next printing."

Let us hope this comes soon; as soon as I become aware of it, I will modify this review.

*Donn Pohren passed away on 5 November, 2007.


I received a free copy of this item for review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's a nice book. Have read the first half of it ..., 28 July 2014
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This review is from: The Art of Flamenco (Paperback)
It's a nice book. Have read the first half of it from the copy in my uni library, then I decided to have a copy of my own.
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Art of Flamenco
Art of Flamenco by D.E. Pohren (Hardcover - Feb 1984)
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