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Landscape and Memory – Simon Schama

07 Jan

I like conventional history books as much as the next person, providing that that person enjoys reading conventional history books, sometimes though a trip down a different route is much needed and wholly appreciated..

In this 672 page beast of a book, wordy historian Simon Schama attempts to show the effects that various landscapes have had on different civilizations and how, in turn, we have affected the landscape. The environmental aspects he chooses for this are forests, mountains and rivers.

Schama draws his evidence from many varied subjects, encompassing literature, art history, geography, geology, folk-lore, philosophy, etc ,ensuring a comprehensive and compelling slant for his arguments.

A case study like this was always going to be my thing – defining culture through people more than man-made borders ever could –  how we continually shape and are shaped by the land, our national character defined by what is around us, a deep and ancient connection with our environment.

if, like me, you are also a lover of what I term the ‘Jigsaw of History’ and enjoy looking at how this fascinating tapestry of all things connects, then the huge variety of references will please you, everything from Ancient Egypt, Henry David Thoreau, Rome, Robin Hood and Mount Rushmore, these are just a couple I noted whilst flicking through the pages and there are so many more new and forgotten to events and people to (re)discover.  Two of personal favourites was John Taylor the water poet and a master of gothic solitude paintings, Caspar David Friedrich.

As you have probably gleaned from the what has come before there is a lot of depth to this book, there is also a lot of artwork to break up the text, lots of colour photographs as well as the black and white etchings of olden days which evoke a plethora of emotions.  The violent clash of colour, imagination and vibrancy coalesces to become a celebration of all the good things that humanity create, whilst giving a wary nod to how wars have come to define our way of thinking.

The aspects it delves into are more than worthy of your attention. There are so many great works mentioned in here that there will be something new for everybody, the only negative I could derive from the whole book was that such a wide range of sources sometimes make the book feel a bit disjointed and sometimes a seemingly small digression leads into a full-blown look at something else.  Schama’s enthusiasm for history though makes up for this, his delight in writing really shows through and guarantees a reading list as long as your arm.  Once you finish this book, it’ll be one of the more referenced books in your history collection, .

This is a book that demands exploration and is a timely reminder of how globalisation has brought national character into the spotlight and how it has subsequently diluted or destroyed it. It’s also a stark reminder of how we are damaging the land that actually defines us in the dubiously named quest for progress..  This is a heavy book, in both the literal and metaphorical sense of the word but its quality is very high and the photos are sublime in parts.  This is not one you will want to rush through but savour before going to read all those classic works that all cultures used to prodigiously produce.

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35 Comments

Posted by on 07/01/2013 in Art, History

 

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35 responses to “Landscape and Memory – Simon Schama

  1. Liz at Libro

    07/01/2013 at 18:38

    Ooh, this looks interesting and I’m adding it to my wishlist!

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    • StetotheJ

      07/01/2013 at 18:40

      It’s different, so in my eyes, a bit special. Add away and let me know what you think when you get a copy.

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  2. letizia

    07/01/2013 at 19:10

    I love the premise of the this book. As you point out, it looks to be a book one can spend quite a bit of time with, savoring it.

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    • StetotheJ

      07/01/2013 at 19:20

      I read it two years ago (ostensibly to impress a lady) but also because it sounded interesting. I keep thinking about it now whenever I read up on European history. I never got the girl but I did enjoy learning stuff, so either way I won.

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      • letizia

        07/01/2013 at 19:27

        The things we’ll do for love…. But as you say, you still got a good read out of the situation 🙂

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        • StetotheJ

          07/01/2013 at 19:29

          I find that if I use a book somehow as a fall back then when the inevitable knock back happens I still have some decent reading material to make me happy. Works everytime. I should market that idea.

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  3. LuAnn

    08/01/2013 at 03:42

    This one is calling my name. I am moving this near the top of my list. Thanks! 🙂

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    • StetotheJ

      08/01/2013 at 18:21

      I thought of you when I picked it out. Call it a belatedly Christmas present, or early birthday present, because I’m cheap like that.

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      • LuAnn

        09/01/2013 at 02:40

        I like it. Thanks so much. 😀

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  4. Claire 'Word by Word'

    08/01/2013 at 06:41

    Interesting and kind of sad, its the loss of identity with the landscape that allows mankind to destroy it.

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    • StetotheJ

      08/01/2013 at 18:23

      It almost seems to late to do anything about it sometimes but happily this book gives us cause to look upon nature anew (whilst its huge page length conversely means the loss of a lot of trees).

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  5. Asha Seth

    09/01/2013 at 06:27

    Upping my list with this one! Thanks J. Sure sounds an interesting read.

    -Asha

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    • StetotheJ

      11/01/2013 at 17:25

      I like to cater for my readers and I am starting to get a feel for which each of you likes so can diversify my reviews. Any book with pictures in always makes one happy too!

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  6. Nicole

    11/01/2013 at 02:02

    600+ pages is daunting but the premise sounds like it’s worth it.

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    • StetotheJ

      11/01/2013 at 17:26

      The pictures break it up, although there are still a lot of words to get through. It’s in parts of 150 ish pages too so that makes it a bit better for breaking it up. There is so much in it that it must appeal top everyone even if they don’t yet know it.

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  7. pennycoho

    11/01/2013 at 04:29

    I used to be convinced (as a child) that the larger, and heavier, and thicker, and wordier a book was (and lots of photographs and illustrations) that it had to be a good book. In a few cases this still holds true! However not the best criteria to follow in general. Great review of a great book written by an excellent historian! 🙂

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    • StetotheJ

      11/01/2013 at 17:29

      I used to think that too, the price and the weight were key factors for me, then I discovered Chess and A Month in the Country and couldn’t believe you could have something so short so good. You are right though, there is a bit of truth in our original myth type ideas.

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      • pennycoho

        12/01/2013 at 23:09

        More than a bit and big books still fascinate me!

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        • StetotheJ

          14/01/2013 at 16:15

          They do have a gravitational pull all of their own, my fat fingers have definitely pawed a few.

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          • pennycoho

            14/01/2013 at 21:51

            I feel more intellectual just having them scattered about!

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  8. Christina ~

    14/01/2013 at 01:39

    Never was into history per se, when I “had” to study it. But now, I am increasingly fascinated by it! Your description makes me want to read it….and you used one of my favorite words….plethora….haha sorry off topic. Very very nicely written! 🙂

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    • StetotheJ

      14/01/2013 at 16:17

      History is so much more exciting when it’s not education based, like Shakespeare, okay at school, awesome now. I have been trying to get the word ‘plethoral’ into a review for ages now, but haven’t glimpsed the right oppurtunity yet, history doesn’t let me out much….

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      • Christina ~

        15/01/2013 at 21:18

        Agreed!! And personally…Shakespeare cannot be appreciated until one has lived life….maybe loved or at least understood a bit of human behavior…which teenagers have no clue…therefore no true understanding. Sad really…when asked to rip apart and examine all the greats…or a handful of them anyway….it leaves a bitter taste in most and kills a love of learning…instead of whetting the literary appetite. 🙂

        I MUST know when you are able to use ‘plethoral’…magnificent word! 😉 I always liked the phrase…”Perfectly Amiable”….I’m sure you can guess who wrote that 😀

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        • StetotheJ

          18/01/2013 at 12:27

          A key part of understanding Shakespeare i think it to go and watch pantomime, nothing beats that (oh yes it does! Oh no…and so forth). Schools have no concept of teaching these days, it’s just copy ans assimilate the information we give you if you hear it enough. I best not get started on a rant, it’s to cold for that.

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          • Christina ~

            20/01/2013 at 03:12

            Sounds like you and I are agreed there….although….wouldn’t a good rant keep us warm? No wait….that was what the movie Sunshine was for! 😉

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            • StetotheJ

              20/01/2013 at 20:04

              Such a great soundtrack to boot, maybe one day we should have a rant off, we could get some crews to stand around us and jeer at the other person and do it on a street. I’d turn my cap backwards and everything! Or there is the movie to quietly rewatch.

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              • Christina ~

                08/02/2013 at 22:10

                Agreed about the soundtrack!! Ha!! I LOVE that….a rant off…especially if you turn your cap backwards! oh yes…would definitely need some jeer-er’s lol 😀 How about a rant off and then quietly rewatching the movie? Best of both worlds 🙂

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                • StetotheJ

                  09/02/2013 at 12:24

                  Sounds like a plan, I shall bring popcorn, loads of it although I suspect that may not be enough. In fact lets make a day of it.

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                  • Christina ~

                    12/02/2013 at 20:34

                    Count me in!! Neverending popcorn and most excellent company!! Sounds like more fun than I’ve had in a long long looong time! 😀

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                    • StetotheJ

                      12/02/2013 at 20:45

                      I would be up for that, I would also like to add in a high five and possibly a book because I would be lost without one.

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                    • Christina ~

                      13/02/2013 at 00:33

                      Make that a double high five and all the books you wish…I’ll even help carry them! 🙂

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                    • StetotheJ

                      13/02/2013 at 15:51

                      You are to kind, there will be many books, more than you can shake a stick at and I imagine you to be a dab hand at stick shaking,

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  9. readinpleasure

    17/01/2013 at 13:43

    Sounds very interesting

    Like

     
    • StetotheJ

      18/01/2013 at 12:32

      The only bad thing about it is the weight, all the rest is quality!

      Like

       

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