Citizens, patriots, liberators: Simon Schama has always had a good
eye for a subject, but in Landscape and Memory we find him
discussing wood, water and rock - what on earth is he getting at?
In fact, he is undermining those who would like to compartmentalize
and channel the study of history into a narrow and recognizable
framework. This a different 'way of looking', not at people and
events, but at the myths about landscape which form part of the
common Western cultural tradition. In nearly 600 pages and with 300
illustrations, he travels from one side of the world to the other,
surveying the ways in which landscape and the elemental forces of
nature have served to influence the imaginations of peoples through
the centuries. An interesting and worthwhile read because, as all
good historians should, Schama forces you to think, and to
reconsider the apparently familiar in a new, different, and
sometimes startling light. (Kirkus UK)
'Landscape & Memory' is a history book unlike any other. In a series of exhilarating journeys through space and time, it examines our relationship with the landscape around us – rivers, mountains, forests – the impact each of them has had on our culture and imaginations, and the way in which we, in turn, have shaped them to answer our needs. 'For although we are accustomed to separate nature and human perception into two realms,' writes Schama, 'they are, in fact, indivisible. Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.'
Schama does not make his argument by any conventional historical method. Instead he builds it up by a series of almost poetic stories and impressions which cumulatively have the effect of a great novel. The forest primeval, the river of life, the sacred mount – at the end of 'Landscape & Memory' we understand where these ideas have come from, why they are so compelling, what they meant to our forebears, and how they still lie all around us if only we know how to look.
"Schama long ago established himself as one of the most learned, original and provocative historians in the English-speaking world… 'Landscape & Memory' offers not only a fine work of historical craft, but also something more like an ambitious work of literary art: a highly original study of the ways in which history not only shapes, but becomes inextricably embedded in, land and trees and water, and they in it … 'Landscape & Memory' has not only the range of a great nineteenth-century work of history, but also the disorientating power of a major work of art from our disorientated fin de siècle… Schama's ability to combine the personal with the philological, the scholarly with the artistic, makes his book fall outside normal categories… Unclassifiable, inimitable, sometimes irritating and often fascinating, 'Landscape & Memory' will inform and haunt, chasten and enrage, its readers. It is that rarest of commodities in our cultural marketplace, a work of genuine originality."
ANTHONY GRAFTON, 'New Republic'
"Schama does more than re-write our relation to nature; he wants us to re-think our relation to myth… Schama's originality lies in the brilliant persistence with which he follows a nature myth through the aeons of time… This is a 'tour de force' of vivid historical writing… It is astoundingly learned, and yet learning is offered with verve, humour and an unflagging sense of delight."
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, 'Independent on Sunday'
"Schama's intensely visual prose is the product of a historical imagination which is not restrained by conventional academic inhibitions… It is his ability (and willingness) to write this sort of narrative prose – vivid, elaborate, unashamedly colourful… that makes Simon Schama the obvious modern successor to Macaulay … Schama is a masterly narrator who spins and embroiders his yarns with unflagging zest. The book abounds in virtuoso passages, some of them reminiscent of Rabelais or Sterne."
KEITH THOMAS, 'New York Review of Books'
"Simon Schama is a giant, a great thinking-machine and a golden lyricist as well. He is tremendously stimulating company, setting the reader off on journeys he never would have imagined for himself… He wants to take us beyond geology and vegetation into myth and memory, to unravel the ancient connections which bring mountain, forest and river into our soul."
BRIAN MASTERS, 'Mail on Sunday'
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