- 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)
Gaudi: A Biography Paperback – 4 Nov 2002
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‘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…
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"
"The most definitive work on the architect"
"A soaring biography, meticulously researched, elegantly organised, fluidly and lucidly written"
"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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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.
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.
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.