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Christopher H (Keilor, Australia)
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Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939-45
Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939-45
by Robert Hewison
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear sighted overview – an essential study, 17 Jun. 2016
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This impressive and tightly-written study is the best analytical survey of literature and the arts in London during the war years (it does consider art, music & theatre). The general thrust is to plot critical debates, shifting allegances and evolving literary themes, focussing on that continual jocking between literary groups and factions which is well handled (in this the book virtually dovetails with Michael Shelden's Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of Horizon). Hewison excells as a big picture man. His broad brush coverage of poetry is illuminating, and the author is balanced. He does point out the prevalence of weak verse.

Very strong in this book are Hewison's clear-sighted overviews of distinct movements across the arts, showing for instance how the themes associated with the literary New Apocalypse also were manifested in visual art, theatre and music. The author has a gift at sifting out palpable links between poets and painters, which is quite an achievement. And he also deftly shows where tradition will hidden beneath a veneer of modernity (works dwelling on blitzed buildings are shown in many cases to be updated versions of Gothic ruins). This is the essential introduction to British culture during the turbulent war years.


domus 1950s
domus 1950s
by Charlotte & Peter Fiell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars A must for architects, designers, and design historians, 3 Jun. 2016
This review is from: domus 1950s (Hardcover)
This is as much a stimulating imaginative resource as a record of design and architectural history. You can’t help repeatedly picking it up and dipping into those glossy pages with their glaring 50s colours, the high modernist page layouts, and the progressive design styles of post-war Europe. The book exudes 1950s optimism, that conviction of modernist architects and designers that they were working to build a better world.

This thick, generously illustrated book is certainly a must for architects, designers, and design historians. That said, a few things need to be pointed out: first, this volume is an anthology of articles from Domus (it does not reprint each issue in its entirety); second, there is no editor’s introduction explaining how the choice of articles has been arrived at (and what sorts of articles were rejected); third, English translations of many articles appear in an appendix at the back, although these are mostly for the opening paragraph or two, not the entire articles (which are in Italian, of course); and, last, be aware the pages are shrunk down to A5 size. Nevertheless, I’d rate this as a six star book if I could. Bravo to Taschen for producing it: it’s a terrific bargain for the price, too.


Art & Visual Culture 1600 - 1850: Academy to Avant-Garde
Art & Visual Culture 1600 - 1850: Academy to Avant-Garde
by Emma Barker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A revisionary view of European Art, 11 April 2016
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With its influential text books, the Open University’s Art History program has reshaped tertiary art studies. Beginning in the 1980s, it published useful anthologies of historical documents, critical writings and artist statements. Then in the mid 1990s came four volumes of narrative and critical history that retold the development of Western art from Impressionism onward: Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century, Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars, Modernism in Dispute: Art since 1940. This quartet condensed insights from the latest scholarly research, and adopted a Leftist outlook (a la the British art historian T.J. Clark) in analysing art. The reader friendly books were soon embraced in university art history programs across the English-speaking world.

Over a dozen additional volumes of commissioned essays/chapters which add more fuel to revisionary fires have appeared in the years since – this text book being among the latest trio. Especially stimulating in this work are chapters on: the development of London’s urban fabric in the century after the Great Fire; the English landscape garden; how Academy exhibitions affected "public" taste; 18th century art and scientific exploration in the Pacific. Besides broadening the usual scope of art history, they also have the merit of showing the British role within, and creative contribution to, Western art. The book is a good size and very well illustrated so that you can see what is being discussed.


The Bronte Cabinet - Three Lives in Nine Objects
The Bronte Cabinet - Three Lives in Nine Objects
by Deborah Lutz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Yorkshire viewed in Translation - Curious Americanisms, 31 Mar. 2016
Deborah Lutz has written a worthy book, finding large contextual overtones in several personal objects left by the Brontė family. Her reader-friendly work will probably be enjoyed by younger readers - especially students - although it's essentially an introduction to the Brontės' lives. Still, this is a stimulating read which avoids that gloominess of certain Brontė pedants. For example, where many writers portray Emily as taking rather maudlin solitary walks on the moors, Lutz shows her constantly accompanied by the energetic family dogs. What a refreshing view these forms of insight provoke! The author is to be applauded for balancing the picture in such ways.

Nevertheless, Lutz’s text needed to have been checked by an English editor, because sometimes she employs American expressions or slang terms that sound odd, out of place, or are incorrect. For instance, an English author would say that Maria Brontė, the children’s mother, was from the West Country, specifically Cornwall; and also that Patrick Brontė, their father, was an Anglo-Irish clergyman. However, the American author of this work describes Maria Brontė as a “southerner”; and Patrick Brontė as an “Irish clergyman”. No. Such terms have very different meanings outside the US, and can lead to inaccuracy and potential misunderstanding. And so it continues with Yorkshire children sometimes referred to as “kids” (it should be bairns), a breedless dog is called a “mutt” (US slang for mongrel), at home the girls have “chores” (US slang for duties), paper can be “repurposed” (instead of reused), etc., etc. English things can be oddly transformed via unconscious cultural translation.

Make no mistake, it’s an entertaining read packed with information on the broader historical and cultural context. The chapter on Hair is outstanding. Still the book is more a tasty supplement to Brontė biographies. - A very stimulating and worthy introduction to what is a complex subject. (4 stars)


The Boat
The Boat
by L. P. Hartley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely an acquired taste, 20 Mar. 2016
This review is from: The Boat (Paperback)
This novel is a subtle (and gentle) comedy about social manners in a small, somewhat isolated English village during the early part of the Second World War. Timothy Casson, a timid & dithering middle-aged bachelor with a private income, arrives and tries to join this coseted, insular world (the location suggests Shropshire). But nearly everyone in the community, high or low, views outsiders with suspicion. This is literature from, and about, a different age. You have to be prepared for a very long read about parochial people who get flustered over what appear such minor things: so much revolves on the niceties of county etiquette. It’s impeccably written, although VERY slow moving, demanding much patience and a familiarity with (& taste for) the pre-modernist English novel c.1910-50.


L'avventura (BFI Film Classics)
L'avventura (BFI Film Classics)
by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A benchmark for historical discussion and critical analysis, 30 Jan. 2016
This booklet-length essay from the BFI’s Film Classics series sets an early benchmark for historical discussion and critical analysis. Well-paced & reader-friendly, it can be completed in a single long session, although you will return for repeat readings as the themes introduced & explored run deep, very deep. This work deserves a place in any serious library covering 20th century film and cultural history.

Nowell-Smith begins probing the film by explaining the heated reception at the Italian premier (there were boos and catcalls from the audience), and the subsequent controversy stirred as Antonioni’s risky work was screened across European cinemas. In this the author draws strongly on his own memories of the shock he himself experienced when seeing “L’avventura” in Paris during 1960. The rest of his book shows how, in breaking the conventions of story-telling (and, ultimately, the shape of a plot), this film represents a crucial creative hinge on which the entire medium of cinema was about to swing. The critical stress is on narrative and characterisation (the film's visual qualities, and the striking cinematography, are not explored).

The author also shows the development of Antonioni’s plot-lines from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s, suggesting how themes evident in “L’avventura” emerged and evolved in the director’s oeuvre. And he finishes by setting “L’avventura” against its chief cinematic rivals in the year it was released, Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers” – each in their way landmark films that transformed the medium.

This single film study also perfectly mates with Nowell-Smith's subsequent large overview of the period Making Waves: New Cinemas of the 1960s.


Walker Evans: American Photographs
Walker Evans: American Photographs
by Lincoln Kirstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.84

5.0 out of 5 stars A quality historical reprint - the book that transformed American photography., 26 Jan. 2016
This is a high quality reprint of an historic book that changed the course of modern photography – it represents what was a watershed moment for the medium as an art form.

In late 1938 New York’s Museum of Modern Art went out on a limb by mounting a solo exhibition of recent work (1928-1936) by the young American photographer Walker Evans. This was a first for a US museum, indeed, the show presented the photographs as works-of-art (another first), and published a handsome, fully illustrated catalogue to accompany that show (another first) which became the immediate template for major photography monographs in succeeding decades (each photo is printed large on a single right side page, with the facing page left blank). Indeed, its format, scope and subject matter made a permanent imprint upon the practice of photography (for example, Robert Frank’s The Americans of 1958 is visibly indebted to, and conducting a creative dialogue with, Evans's American Photographs).

This 6 star book is a quality reproduction of that original museum catalogue. And it deserves a key place in any serious private or public library dealing with the history of photography. Produced to mark the 75th anniversary of that watershed book, besides reproducing the original design of the book, and its essay, there is a contextual essay at the end explaining how the museum exhibition and catalogue came to be arranged in 1938, and its longer impact upon photographic history.


Walker Evans American Photographs
Walker Evans American Photographs
by Walker Evans
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The book that changed modern photography - a quality reprint, 26 Jan. 2016
This is a high quality reprint of an historic book that changed the course of modern photography – it represents what was a watershed moment for the medium as an art form.

In late 1938 New York’s Museum of Modern Art went out on a limb by mounting a solo exhibition of recent work (1928-1936) by the young American photographer Walker Evans. This was a first for a US museum, indeed, the show presented the photographs as works-of-art (another first), and published a handsome, fully illustrated catalogue to accompany that show (another first) which became the immediate template for major photography monographs in succeeding decades (each photo was printed large on a single right side page, with the facing page left blank). Indeed, its format, scope and subject matter made a permanent imprint upon the practice of photography (for example, Robert Frank’s The Americans of 1958 is visibly indebted to, and conducting a creative dialogue with, Evans’s American Photographs).

This 6 star book is a quality reproduction of that original museum catalogue. And it deserves a key place in any serious private or public library dealing with the history of photography. Produced to mark the 75th anniversary of that watershed book, besides reproducing the original design of the book, and its essay, there is a contextual essay at the end explaining how the museum exhibition and catalogue came to be arranged in 1938, and its longer impact upon photographic history.


1959: The Year Everything Changed
1959: The Year Everything Changed
by Fred Kaplan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars History for the "lite" age, 18 Jan. 2016
Its an entertaining light read, but Kaplan's book is essentially feature journalism, not solidly researched history. Each chapter resembles a "Reader's Digest" magazine article, having been seemingly assembled by trawling information from many other books by acclaimed experts. Original research and a fresh perspective are lacking throughout. This is most visible with the chapters on jazz, which at moments plainly paraphrase the cover notes from the record albums being discussed; while the handling of Nixon & Krushchev's controversial "kitchen debate" is astonishingly superficial (google is a better source for that).

Having said that Kaplan's introduction could be very useful for teenagers studying at school the 1950s in America. His chapters are reader friendly, short and give solid information in a very understandable form. But, if you're after more substance and analysis, realistically David Halberstam's The Fifties gives a better and more insightful coverage of many issues covered here.


Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949 (Seminar Studies)
Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949 (Seminar Studies)
by Martin McCauley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.86

5.0 out of 5 stars A history textbook that excells, 12 Jan. 2016
University students may be the target audience, although general readers will find this a most accessible, reader-friendly work. McCauley's narrative is well paced. He is accomplished at painting with a broad brush, showing general trends in the US State Department or the results of bickering in the Soviet Cominform, while avoiding needless detail. - I have found his up-dated book a useful reference tool which places matters within their overarching perspective when reading political biographies or more focussed historical studies of the period.


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