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Landscape and Memory


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About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of seventeen books, including The Embarrassment of Riches, Citizens, Landscape and Memory, Rembrandt's Eyes, the History of Britain trilogy and The Story of the Jews. He is a contributing editor of the Financial Times and his award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain and the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of Art.


In an enormously rich, labyrinthine survey, Columbia University humanities professor Schama, author of prize-winning books on the French Revolution (Citizens) and Dutch culture (The Embarrassment of Riches), explores the role of landscape in myth, art and culture. Full of wondrous and forgotten lore, his mind-expanding study links the Egyptian myth of Osiris, sacrified king-god of the Nile, to pagan traditions of the sacred stream, Christian baptism and modern images of the fertile, fatal river. He follows woodlands-based myths of utopian primitivism from Tacitus through German Romanticism, the work of contemporary painter Anselm Kiefer and the militant nationalism that culminated in Hitler. Ranging freely over Western literature, history, art and mythology, Schama examines Mount Rushmore as an icon of democracy, unfenced suburban lawns as symbols of social solidarity, Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome, Sir Walter Raleigh's journey to Guiana, Thoreau's meditations at Walden Pond, Swiss climber Horace Benedict de Saussure's ascent of Mount Blanc in 1787. Arguing that the boundaries between the wild and the cultivated are more flexible than is commonly assumed, this rewarding synthesis maps an uncharted geography of the imagination. Illustrations. 40,000 first printing. (Apr.)

Schama presents a wide-ranging meditation on the role of nature in Western civilization from ancient times to the present. The previous books by Schama (humanities, Columbia Univ.) include The Embarassment of Riches (LJ 5/15/87) and Citizens (LJ 4/1/89). In the present work, he argues persuasively that Europeans and Americans have been shaped by nature as much as they themselves have shaped nature. Schama discusses the impact of sacred or mysterious rivers, forests, and mountains in forging the Western imagination. Individuals discussed include the expected (e.g., Henry David Thoreau) as well as some surprises (e.g., Louis XIV and Hitler). The fact that nature has had a huge impact on Western history is not a startling new revelation, but Schama is a marvelous writer and an impressive scholar. He brings together familiar and not-so-familiar stories to create a fresh reappraisal of more than 2000 years of history. Highly recommended.‘T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y.

"Marvelously rich and eloquent...Entertaining...Wonderfully learned and perceptive." --The New York Times Book Review

"[Schama's] sinewy prose is everywhere enlivened by an illuminating wit and fueled by a relentless and joyful curiosity...You get the impression he will venture anywhere, intellectually speaking, in pursuit of his historical prey...He's a scintillating guide." --The Globe and Mail

"Fascinating...A potpourri of biography, art history and much else, skillfully blended and handsomely illustrated...Insightful." --Maclean's

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