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4.8 out of 5 stars
10
4.8 out of 5 stars
Nairn's Towns
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on 14 April 2014
I was so excited to see that this book was in print again, particularly as the original, Britain's Changing Towns, is so rare and expensive. Ian Nairn visited a random selection of places and summarised his findings in a series of pithy essays for the Listener magazine in the early 1960s. These were then combined into a book with postscripts from revisits in 1967, followed in this new volume by updates by Owen Hatherley. Hatherley is the perfect choice, sharing Nairn's belief in the possibilities of better modern architecture and his exasperation at the poor quality of so much of what has been done in its name, with a firmer political outlook. His postscripts are first rate and not always in agreement with Nairn, who would not have expected them to be - as long as people had looked at the same places with the same open heart, he was happy to be contradicted.

Big cities dominate the sixteen essays, but not comprehensively - Bristol, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Leeds are notable omissions. Nairn included one small country town (Llanidloes); the county of Fife, where he largely stuck to the coast; and the city of Derry, already a beleaguered economic backwater before its outrageously gerrymandered politics began to provoke serious resistance. London is represented by one of its pre-1965, much smaller boroughs (Marylebone).

Nairn's particular focus was on the redevelopment sweeping through his subject towns at the time and the picture is mixed - he was most positive in Sheffield, Liverpool and Birmingham, most excoriating in Norwich, Plymouth and Glasgow. But he found space for a general overview of the significant earlier buildings too, and what shines through is his unique talent for summarising the spirit of a place as expressed in its buildings, with enthusiasm and sympathy. Like Nairn's London, each essay is a highly personal visitor's guide, so that like much of Nairn's work the book retains a force far greater than that of a series of prose snapshots in time.
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on 3 March 2016
Ian Nairn was one of the most perceptive of the writers on architecture in the 1950s and 1960s. His work is not known by enough of the more recent critics. Time passes and environments change. It is a move of genius to get Owen Hatherley to oversee the publication this more recent edition of Nairn's Towns of 1967, Hatherley being one of the closest of contemporary fellow travellers.
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on 6 May 2014
...to the greatest architectural critic of the twentieth century. Even if you don't know the town in question, the words are so vivid that you will be transported there in an instant. Nicely updated, too. And best read with a pint of Guinness in one hand, in the corner of an old-fashioned British pub...!
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on 15 June 2017
Time has not been all that kind to Ian Nairn's writings. They do not contain enough data, diagrams, illustrations, topography etc. to reflect what it seems he was trying to say. Too often you are left to consider what a town might be like on the basis of a handful of buildings covering a small area. This does not correspond to the reality of everyday life. His prose style is really not all that compelling or distinctive, from this distance. He is not much different to Pevsner - useful if you are already in the know and on the spot but a bit myopic and plodding. The attempt to update these essays in the light of subsequent events is worthwhile but serves to reinforce that aesthetic judgements are frequently arbitrary.
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on 21 July 2014
Great to be able to afford a copy thanks to the reprint. Insight into the changing shape of Britain's towns. Still as relevant today as when it was written. Required reading for local historians and town planners
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on 12 May 2017
BRILLIANT
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on 25 July 2014
Marvellous to read more of this great critic. A splendid writer. I started with 'London' and have since read everything I can by this inspiring critic.
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on 17 February 2014
Well written and timely in a beautiful edition and a real bargain!
I would recommend it to all your readers
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on 9 July 2014
Not only is this book well written it is also well produced, Credit should also go to Notting Hill editions.
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on 13 March 2014
Fantastic book! Wonderful glimpse of social, political and architectural history brought up to the present day. So glad it has been reprinted in this lovely edition
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