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Gaudi: A Biography Paperback – 4 Nov 2002

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (4 Nov. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006548784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006548782
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 166,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘This book is written with immense sympathy and understanding for Gaudí himself and his work, but also for the cultural and political background. In its scope and ambition, its clarity and its feeling for the period and the personality, this book is the most definitive book on Gaudí which has yet been produced.’ Colm Toibin

'It is rare for the biography of an architect to be so human and so humorous. Gijs van Hensbergen has managed to recreate in his book that same combination of playfulness and seriousness which characterises Gaudí, and Barcelona. His infectious enthusiasm is conveyed through vibrant and witty prose. Altogether a delight.' Paul Preston

From the Back Cover

"This is a tale of murdered prostitutes and exhumed nuns, of still-born babies and live chickens cast in plaster, of patches of skin removed without anaesthetic from young men, of cholera, alcoholism, riot arson and death-by-tram, at the centre of which there is a celibate, vegetarian, devout man who liked lettuce dipped in milk for lunch…
'Evening Standard'

For many Gaudi's unique architecture 'is' Barcelona. But little is known about the shadowy figure behind the swirling, vivid buildings that inspired the surrealists. Contemporary accounts describe an effete dandy who dressed like a tramp, a revolutionary patriot arrested in a pro-Catalan riot dressed like a tramp age 73, and a hermit who chose lifelong celibacy, rejected by the woman he loved. This masterly biography is the first to untangle his paradoxes, bringing the obsessions of both man and architect powerfully to life, against the changing backdrop of Catalonia.

"A terrifically stirring biography…van Hensbergen animates ideas with narrative drive. Buildings are his characters."
'New York Times'

"'Gaudi' brings vividly alive for the first time the Catalan cultural and political background that is the key to understanding Gaudi"
'Sunday Telegraph'

"The most definitive work on the architect"
'Art Review'

"A soaring biography, meticulously researched, elegantly organised, fluidly and lucidly written"
'Chicago Tribune'

"At the end [of reading 'Gaudi' I felt like jumping on a jet to Barcelona, imagination at full stretch, rosary in hand"

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The one quality expected of a book on the life of any influential architect is a collection of useful and illuminating images of their work. This book is sadly deficient in this area with too few images of Gaudi's achievements and too many black and white photos among them. Having spent time in Barcelona, I was dismayed by this oversight as Gaudi truly was an architect of texture and form. Voluminous illustrations are absolutely required. Presumably the decision to limit photographic images was based on cost rather than aesthetic criteria. That being noted it is a fine scholarly work and delves into the myriad contractory paths pursued by Gaudi on his way to devout asetic Catholicism. Read this book in conjunction with the Taschen edition on Gaudi to get a rounded grasp of the man, his life and his work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really love the city of Barcelona and Gaudi's influence is everywhere. I bought a short biography of Gaudi from the gift shop at La Sagrada Familia and thoroughly enjoyed it which made me want to read more. This book is overloaded with Catalan names, places, phrases etc. and for someone who only understands a little Spanish it was 'too much information' and for me it detracted from the story. I found it hard to get into and gave up after a few chapters and the book is now in the pile for the charity shop. I do not normally 'give up' on books so easily but this was hard work. However I am not put off and will search out another Gaudi biography in the near future.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This really helped me get a better understanding of Gaudi and his works and how he went about creating his masterpieces as well as dealing with crisis'.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars 19 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Tame to start but finishes with a grand flourish befitting his subject 15 Jun. 2016
By keetmom - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gijs van Hensbergen has written a good biography of one of the world's most creative and unconventional architects, but it could so easily have been a great biography. The best parts of the book come towards the end where he writes in compelling style of Antoni Gaudi's work on his most controversial project - the La Pedrera apartment block - and also of his legacy. Here van Hensbergen brings to life the eccentricity, the obsession, the combativeness and the incredible creative energy of Gaudi and the account is fascinating and very moving. The fact that this last private commission co-incided with the political turmoil of the 1909 strikes in Barcelona adds to the story as van Hensbergen tells it and makes up for the more plodding style of the early chapters. A good editor would have helped the author fill in the gaps, introduce the large and often confusing cast of characters better, and produce the all round tribute this remarkable man deserves.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Gaudi biography with Catalan context 19 July 2016
By Paul - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful biography of Gaudi written in the context of Catalan nationalism and Catholicism. Gijs also provides historical background of turn-of-the-century Barcelona with its financiers behind its industrial growth funding architects and other artists. This book is well researched and heavily footnoted.
48 of 59 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Completely unworthy of its subject 18 Feb. 2002
By Eric Leventhal - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Outside of Catalonia and Spain, Antoni Gaudi i Cornet is mythologised as a sort of mad genius . The man, like his work is appreciated, but completely misunderstood. Gils van Hensbergen's intention is to present Gaudi to us in the Catalan nationalist context which formed him and his buildings. Yes, an understanding of Catalanism with its piety, spiritualism, chauvinist patriotism and family values is helpful to understanding Gaudi's life, but not essential to appreciating his work. Antoni Gaudi was a genius. Works of genius communicate themselves. That is all you really need to know admire and love Gaudi's designs.
As pure as Hensbergen's intentions are, the book is a failure. Poorly written, haphazardly organized and indifferently edited, Gaudi is painful to read and does very little to improve ones understanding of the subject. To learn about the Barcelona of those days, its politics and players and how they influenced the architect, read Robert Hughes' Barcelona: a magnificent book by a master non-fiction stylist.
Gaudi: A Biography is also inadequate in the descriptions of the projects and the buildings. Hensbegen never clarifies what happened at Poblet; how Gaudi worked and what his studio was like; that the model for Colonia Guell was for an entire church, not just a crypt; and most importantly how did Gaudi view space? Hensbergen never discusses Gaudi's mature interiors. He treats the designer solely as a sculptor--a former of symbols--not as a creator of spaces.
I was confused as often by the imperfectly written sentences as by the badly explained ideas. The chronology is a muddle. Dates are even mistyped. Names pile up without clear explanation of who they are or why they are being mentioned. And the endnotes...! They are confounding digressions which clarify nothing.Without beauty, rationality and solid construction, this book is wholely unworthy of its subject.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars With two rulers and a chord one generates all architecture 26 Feb. 2003
By A. G. Plumb - Published on
Format: Hardcover
My title is a quote from Gaudi himself and it is only something a genius could say. Like Bach claiming his work was 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. What clearly comes through in this book is that Gaudi was an extraordinary man - a creator of unique structures and visions.
I have always felt a fascination with things that seem to have some unexpected, almost alien, aspect to them. In architecture this includes the temples at Angkor and the Hindu temples of India; are these the works of humankind? So it is with Gaudi. Where are the precursors? Where are the followers? Perhaps there are no followers because what he did was so exceptional no-one dares takes the same path. And then there is the man Gaudi as described in this book - he is no less alien; banishing intimacy with women from his life, being absorbed in catholicism, following a rigorous vegetarian diet. I didn't want speculation - I hate that in biographies - but I would have liked more information. For example, why was Gaudi a vegetarian - was it a religious tenet he was following, was it a moral one, was it health-driven?
Other reviewers have been disturbed by Mr Hensbergens command of the English language. This did not offend me. Perhaps the paperback version I am reviewing had been further edited. But I did find the book slow to capture my attention. Perhaps it was Gaudi and not the prose that finally engaged me - but engaged I was. Another feature that initially annoyed me was the placing of the four sections of illustrations. It seemed to me that I was forever hunting for an illustration for the text I was reading. But by the end of the biography this didn't offend me at all; in fact I grew to love hunting back and forth through the illustrations because as I did so I grew to know Gaudi's architecture better and better.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential for those already interested in Gaudi 20 Jan. 2002
By Martin Doudoroff - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This biography is not breezy, light reading. Nor, despite it's unusually elegant printing, is it remarkable writing. It is, however, far more detailed and credible information and insight into Gaudi than one is likely to get anywhere else. I've been fascinated with Gaudi's works since a very young age. The construction work on the Sagrada Familia -- the bulk of which has been during my lifetime -- is something I have been able to measure my life by. That said, my understanding of the architect himself had always been quite vague and contradictory for the simple reason that quality information was never available (at least not in English). Until all the renovations for the '92 Olympics, one certainly didn't learn much useful about him by visiting his buildings. While the architectural sites have radically improved their exhibits, they cannot get anywhere near the depth of this volume. This book is certainly revealing.
One significant flaw in the book, however, is the complete lack of visual reference. I HIGHLY recommend that you have a visual reference to the buildings on hand, such as the Taschen book, when tackling this biography. The few photos here are mostly of people.
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