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Probably the best produced book I've had in my hands for a long time - absolutely beautiful. Not one for reading in bed - it weighs a ton and hurts when you fall asleep and drop it on your face - but a solid, well researched account of the Pipers and their varying circle. The writing is clear and precise, although the tendency to deal with parts of the story just out of the normal chronological order, especially in the 1935 - 1945 period, can be slightly confusing. Don't let this put you off, though: Ms Spalding will hold your interest.

But by the end you may have formed the same opinion as I did - the Pipers in later life, especially John, wouldn't have been much fun to be around. This seems odd because the testimony of their friends would suggest the opposite. But there's a puritanical earnestness about the lives and the work which I started to find wearying. They became members of "the great and the good" very readily, and seemed to relish it. By the end you wanted a bit of Van Gogh instability, or Dali-esque humour - anything to chip away at the po-faced quality of Piper's reverence for his own Art. This is probably grossly unfair, but I was left with confused feelings about the Pipers and their place in the story of English Art. There was a lot of other great stuff going on in the Art World while John Piper was painting his churches and stately homes, but it didn't seem to impinge much on him. I was left with the impression that I had been meandering down an interesting byway while the main traffic was thundering past just over the horizon.
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on 29 December 2009
The 'Product Description' above says it all. Frances Spalding's book is, quite simply, superb. From start to finish.

To begin with, she writes brilliantly, with an excellent and lively style, and an obvious affection for her subject that keeps the reader turning the pages - keen to know what comes next.

And it's quite a story. The names and faces that weave in and out of the pages of this sumptuous volume are like a 'Who's Who' of the British Arts in all their shapes and sizes, and at their very best. John Piper's life was the broadest canvas, encompassing painting, pottery, architecture, sculpture, weaving, music, photography, stage design - and it's also one of the joys of this biography that his multi-talented wife, the "golden Myfanwy" of John Betjeman's poems, is given full acknowledgement as a creative artist in her own right. They were quite a couple.

To anyone even vaguely interested in Frances Spalding's subject, you cannot go wrong with this book - and for the price (as published, or the many variables on Amazon) it's a gift. Well worth having, and a fascinating and edifying read from cover to cover, with magnificent illustrations that do full justice to their originals.

We should be grateful to everyone who had a hand in its production. This is a worthy monument to both Pipers - a monument that's built to last.
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on 27 August 2012
This is a distinguished account of an interesting artistic partnership, well written and superbly illustrated, and surely definitive. John Piper, the artist, stage designer, writer, friend of John Betjeman among many others, produced an enormous body of work, which Frances Spalding describes without lingering. Piper's transformation from modernism to representational art in the late 1930s is brilliantly conveyed. I've always found his black skies a bit off-putting, and it would have been helpful to have a bit more on the reason for this predilection; but the versatile technique of the artist is very well described. The author does linger a bit over Myfanwy's work with Benjamin Britten, possibly because the sources are plentiful, but it is all interesting.

Lots of plaudits to the author. No plaudits to OUP, a publisher which would no doubt think it was in the top rank. The first word of Chapter 1 (Giacometti) is misspelt, and there are typos and small editorial points at five-page intervals. When the content is so good, it is such a pity that the basics of publishing have been so badly neglected. If I were the author I would feel very let down.
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on 20 January 2010
This is a very scholarly account of the lives of two extraordinary people. Whilst much of the text refers to John and his amazingly varied and voluminous output across a very wide range of creative endeavours tne intellectual as well as the domestic support which Myfanwy supplies thoughout their long and productive lives is made very clear. The ambience, joy and richness of their life at Fawley Bottom, witnessed and enjoyed by so many people who were welcomed into this idyll is brought wonderfully to life, despite the early vicissitudes of a spartan existence. I admit that John Piper is my favourite artist and I have been quite moved by his/their dedication to his chosen life.
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on 26 October 2009
This glorious book achieves what the title says: these are lives in art in very great detail.
Unless you are an art scholar (and will no doubt find fault somewhere)the book is best approached first by reading the introduction and then browsing. The index is good for this as usual. The illustrations are superb, and the production as a whole excellent. Not for bedside reading though, but far from just a coffee table book.
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on 3 October 2011
I have virtually no criticism of this book, which presents an excellent balance between the life and work of this couple. Colour illustrations - about 12 pages [I'm not at home to have a look] - are excellent. Myfanmy comes into her own in the discussion of her work on opera libretti with Benjamin Britten; very interesting for Britten fans, but illuminating in the broader sense of listening more critically. I went to the John Piper exhibition in Eastbourne shortly after reading this, and the book does illuminate the paintings. Only quibble is publishers' use of american Zs for S [civilization]: a practical point is that it a big fat book which needs a lectern or a cushion under it!
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on 4 February 2012
This is the best book I have ever read about artistic people. It gives all the facts in such a readable fashion. I unhesitatingly reccomend this to everyone
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on 29 July 2014
I agree that the book is lively and informative, and the author does a wonderful job in telling the story of two lives that involve a very large cast of characters. I came to Piper via a fairly good knowledge of his designs for Britten operas, and I was somewhat dismayed by the numerous small mistakes in the sections about John Piper's work with Britten. The opera synopses are full of inaccuracies, as are the sections about Britten and the Aldeburgh Festival. I began to wonder that if the parts of the book where I did know quite a bit about the subject were so carelessly written or edited, how accurate are the other sections? Also, one of the colour plates, a Piper abstract, is printed upside down in comparison with the b/w photograph in the text, and the dimensions given don't match the description, although it is clearly the same painting. It seems a shame that what is clearly a labour of love wasn't checked more carefully by the publisher.
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on 27 November 2012
A really good and well illustrated account with informative detailed text. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in Piper. My only concern was that the book, delivered by Amazon's courier company of choice; was left out in the rain, instead of being left safely with my neighbour.
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on 5 February 2013
A wonderful biography of John Pipers life and Art and relationship with the wonderful Myfanwy and their circle of friends.Any body interested in Piper would not be disappointed.
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