However badly it manages internal scandals and tries to justify the extremely ridiculous nature of its management structure (and don’t get me started on the quality of some of its programmes), one thing the latterly beleaguered BBC gets right is its History programmes and accompanying books.
As usual with a BBC publication, the lavish use of photographs and small but not to small font gives you the feeling that you are holding a book containing a lot of substance, something you can read right through or dip into, but always something worth keeping and going back too.
Intrepid explorer Dan has travelled the world looking at buildings which have either changed the world or have the capacity to keep us ‘astonished delighted and impressed’ and the selection he as come up with are very varied and always engaging.
Some buildings are naturally familiar the world over, the structures of Pompeii, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and such like, and allow even the most disinterested person a way to engage in the book, if not in the actual reading but in the many photographs.
Others edifices (edifi?) range from the obscure to the fascinating, such as the Sedlec Ossuary which is home to the bones of over 40,000 people, some of which some have been artistically arranged into chandeliers and other such adornments. Type that into your favourite search engine and see how delightfully macabre yet visually arresting the place is. But that would be me digressing again.
With a book like this, it enables you to put a new perspective on the form of buildings, something you don’t see in the steel and glass structures of today’s ‘best’ designers. A celebration of everything from the noble igloo right through to the majesty of Catherine Palace in St Petersburg.
There are several parts to the book, each being of a certain function for the buildings contained within, pleasure, death, etc, there is also a brief bit of history which variously explains the history of the time, the attitudes with which the building was received the social, political and religious climate, etc that was swirling around each building.
What you have here is a celebration of human endeavour that brings through a new perspective on the power of imagination, the ingenuity to overcome problems to get the right look and form, to not compromise against nature for your art but sometimes to work with it or around it. Above all though to inspire people through the generations to create buildings of true beauty.
It is worth pointing out as well, that this review is done on the hardback version with lots of photos and full colour, I can’t speak for the paperback version, although I have heard that it contains less photographs, so from that alone i would urge you to pick up a hardback edition, if you fancy it.