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on 3 December 2012
I thoroughly enjoy Jonathan's rather surreal critical deliveries on TV, and this book is a kind of textual version of the same. It does contain material that I've seen on Channel 4, but I found it an additional treat providing a slightly different view of the presenter himself. At least a passing interest in architecture would appear essential, but most readers will be familiar with at least some of the wide spectrum of places he discusses. If I can be excused for feebly attempting to mimic the style of the writer, then I would describe this book as an orgy of vocabularic excellence.
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on 10 November 2012
Excellent polemic pieces about much of what is wrong with our urban/built environment, and by extension our society. Highly readable, although the film scripts are clearly not a substitute for watching the films themselves. There are few people writing with this level of intelligence and insight more's the shame. Any of you thinking you were in the frame for leadership of the Hate Blair and New Labour campaign had better move over and make room.
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..and, ultimately, the literary equivalent of coriander: pungent, unmistakeable, and completely divisive; you'll either love it or you'll hate it and, even if you love it, and relish it in small quantities, consuming a whole bunch at once can be a fairly nauseating experience.

Museum Without Walls is a huge bunch of Jonathan Meades. 54 pieces of assorted journalism from the past 25 years, interspersed with 6 TV scripts of various vintages. Taken in small doses, it's as bracingly brilliant as any fan of Meades' TV shows would expect. Read it cover to cover, though, and Meades' literary tics start to become tiresome - his stratospheric levels of verbal dexterity (and indignation) can be exhausting for us mortals to keep up with. He's also not above repeating himself, and the same quirky anecdotes and factoids resurface time and again in his prose.

I shouldn't quibble too much, though. For anyone dismayed by the timidity of modern urban planning, disgusted by the moral vacuity of the Blair administration, and exhilarated by the 'poetry in poured concrete' that is brutalist architecture, Meades is a pugnacious, forthright and eloquent ally. He's a unique, sui generis mash-up of Ian Nairn, Francois Rabelais and Luis Buneul and, although he'd probably punch my lights out for saying so, he's a genuine national treasure. Museum Without Walls is as brilliantly flawed as Meades himself, and is a real treat for dedicated Meades-spotters.
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on 26 October 2012
Over the years I had enjoyed the TV programmes of Jonathan Meades so a chance to encounter him on the printed page was not to be missed. With this book of selected essays he does not disappoint. His distinctive tone of voice and phrase sounds yet again clearly in the mind's ear even if he does at times have me reaching for the dictionary. He forces one to see and think and to not accept that the built environment we have around us is necessarily the best in the best of all possible worlds. Nonetheless, he is equally adept at pointing out what is of merit. There is some repetition/overlap with some of the essays, for example the shacks between Bewdley and Bridgnorth. Anyone who celebrates the late Ian Nairn must have his heart in the right place.

If you have only previously encountered Jonathan Meades in his TV programmes and enjoyed them, then this book is well worth reading. If you have not enjoyed the TV programmes then I doubt that you will be converted to seeing the world around us with the help of a "Meades-eye" view.

The publishers 'Unbound' of this book are to be congratulated on bringing back to life funding by subscription.
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on 11 August 2013
Meades is rare and stimulating. Even when a reader may disagree the writing sustains and goes on informing; you may suddenly find that you revise your views. While he might not be the nicest person to sit opposite at dinner he is definitely somebody who should be prominent in our public life. A Meades in parliament would wake 'em all up for sure. I would vote for him as chief planner for buildings. I'd certainly prefer him to be our next King. Until then, I'm going to have to be patient, and wait for the next book. He could write about how best to make a good compost heap and retain my interest.
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Jonathan Meades first swam into my limited range of sight with a Sunday paper magazine recommendation for the then Monsieur Max in Hampton Hill; he was right on the restaurant money for me and he has led from the front since then in many topics. This handy volume has a shed-load of his essays and scripts assembled in rough order but with a dash of the shack-zone too. You can dip in or read in order (I opted for the latter). It is all opinionated, often rude, typically funny, usually "right" and with a useful edge to helping one view a building again possibly in a different light. There is a little bit of repetition over the years (enough with the corrugated iron already) but nothing to counterbalance the pleasure of a good argument skilfully mounted - even if one does not have a horse in that race. There's a lot of Cobbett's Rural Rides in Meades if with less rudery about Quakers.
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on 15 January 2014
This is everything you would want from a Meades book. Shortish snippets of wonderful prose, containing all of the Meades trademarks: lists, architectural criticism, brutal forays into pop culture, more lists, strong opinions, primped and preened English that few could get away with using, obscure references, lists and a refusal to assume that the reader would know less than the writer. The latter means that you will probably be looking up lots of buildings, places, people and even words and phrases on the Internet but that is the joy of this book.It entertains whilst simultaneously making you want to learn more. If you liked any of his television work then you need to buy this collection of essays to discover more.

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on 6 June 2013
Meades is such an interesting writer both in terms of style and content. He is erudite and funny, keep your dictionary at hand because he will challenge your vocabulary which is an excellent learning process. The only problem I have with this is that some are verbatim from TV programmes so I miss the excellent sounds that usually accompany images.

i have enjoyed all of his stuff (written and on television) so would rcommend you give him a go if you have any interest in the built environment or simply life in general.
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Jonathan Meades’s book comprises fifty-four essays, selected and edited by his wife, of varying length and arranged within seven thematic sections. There are also six scripts of episodes from Meades’s television series. The title, of course, refers to the built environment in the great outdoors. In his introduction, Meades succinctly sums up its contents: “This book is the product of an obsessive preoccupation with places … Much of it evidently concerns buildings, the gaps between them, their serendipitous conjunctions and grotesque collisions.”

Yet it’s not all architecture and topography: Meades also writes affectively of his childhood – “The Boy’s First Pint was about as close as middle-class, middle-century, middle England got to the bar mitzvah” (a different kind of bar) – as well as of food and drink – “a country in which beer has primacy is bound to suffer culinary impoverishment.”

Some idea of Meades’s writing style and the breadth – and depth – of his knowledge and interests can be gleaned from the book’s first essay. Here, amidst his “expressions of an incurable topophilia” (I now know of what I too ‘suffer’: later he confesses to being a “topophiliac pervert”), he deals with chalk and cheese (literally), buzzards, combine harvesters, David Beckham, and football teams 36.5% ginger or 81% Steve – all contained in just seven paragraphs. In the first four pages I laughed out loud twice: the first time about rabbits, the second about the implications of Tony Blair’s London home having a basement.

One might disagree with much of what he says – I disagreed a lot – but one can only marvel at the ingenuity of the attack. It often comes out of nowhere, heavily fortified with a compelling and heady mixture of verbosity and humour. Assuredly, he will make you think and scramble for counter-arguments. Certainly, some observations are just plain rants – such as his rage against “vehicular correctness” in ‘London Transport’ – but I can forgive anyone who can write a sentence like “Gosport twinkles enticingly” and mean it.

But my advice is not to read too many chapters in one go, as this induces a headache. Moreover, whilst not as ‘bad’ as Will Self, the presence of a dictionary close at hand is advised for looking up the occasional term that is not paramartially a neologism.
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on 27 April 2013
Meades is to my mind one of the most interesting and individual social/cultural/architectural critics around and I always look forward to anything by him. But collected together some of these really quite slight and very occasional pieces seem not to have worn very well and the overall impact of the more substantial and harder hitting pieces struck me as lessened. A book for dipping into rather than being read through (as I did) , I think
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