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July 18, 2003

Paul Johnson on art

Friedrich --

I know you're as much of a fan of the British historian Paul Johnson as I am. What has he been up to recently, you may wonder? Writing a history of art. Yippee! I feel safe in predicting that the book will be A) a blast to read and look at, and B) anything but a po-mo jargonfest. Can't wait to get my hands on it, in fact.

Its American publication date is October, which means it should be available in early-to-mid September. The publisher compares the book to Gombrich, and describes it as a comprehensive history of art that covers everything from rock painting up the present. I seem to remember that Johnson himself is a serious watercolorist and art fanatic, so I wouldn't be surprised if the art-crit part of the book is as good as the history-telling will no doubt be. I'm also betting that the view he delivers of art history won't be the standard one, to say the least. I'm especially curious to see how he treats the 20th century -- a little birdy has already told me that Warhol gets not much more than one sentence in the book.

You can read a bit more about Johnson's book and even have the fun of pre-ordering it here.



posted by Michael at July 18, 2003


That Johnson is a writing machine. Along the way he has obviously soaked up a virtually limitless number of amusing anecdotes, too. In a tossed-off column on book collecting for the Literary Review of July 2003, he has a great one on the bibliomania of Gladstone:

It is a characteristic of passionate, inveterate and incorrigible book misers that they are jealous of shelf-space and expect each foot to hold the maximum number of books possible. This is a science in itself. Gladstone was a master of it. For him, 'reading was like breathing'; over 20,000 books are mentioned in his diaries. In order not to torment his wife unduly, he learned to calculate with exact skill how many books a room could be made to contain. He might enter a room in the house of an acquaintance and observe, at a glance: 'Ah, you could fit 2,320 books in here, possibly a few more.' It is highly appropriate, therefore, that his house on the Welsh borders near chester should have become a residential library, where authors can go to study and create more books.

The full piece can be read at

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 20, 2003 2:05 AM

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