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Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life

Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life

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Born Nikolai Pewsner into a Russian-Jewish family in Leipzig in 1902, Nikolaus Pevsner was a dedicated scholar who pursued a promising career as an academic in Dresden and Gottingen. When, in 1933 Jews were no longer permitted to teach in German universities, he lost his job and looked for employment in England. Here, over a long and amazingly industrious career, he made himself an authority on the exploration and enjoyment of English art and architecture, so much so that his magisterial county-by-county series of 46 books on "The Buildings of England" (first published 1951 - 74) is usually referred to simply as 'Pevsner'. As a critic, academic and champion of Modernism, Pevsner became a central figure in the architectural consensus that accompanied post-war reconstruction; as a 'general practitioner' of architectural history, he covered an astonishing range, from Gothic cathedrals and Georgian coffee houses to the Festival of Britain and Brutalist tower blocks. Susie Harries explores the truth about Nikolaus Pevsner's reported sympathies with elements of Nazi ideology, his internment in England as an enemy alien and his sometimes painful assimilation into his country of exile. His Heftchen - secret diaries he kept from the age of 14 for another sixty years - reveal hidden aspirations and anxieties, as do his numerous letters (he wrote to his wife, Lola, every day that they were apart). Harries is the first biographer to have read Pevsner's private papers and, through them, to have seen into the workings of his mind. Her definitive biography is not only rich in context and far-ranging, but is also brought to life by quotations from Pevsner himself. He was born a Jew but converted to Lutheranism; trained in the rigour of German scholarship, he became an Everyman in his copious commissions, publications, broadcasts and lectures on art, architecture, design, education, town planning, social housing, conservation, Mannerism, the Bauhaus, the Victorians, Zeitgeist, Englishness and how a nation's character may, or must, be reflected in its art. His life - as an outsider yet an insider at the heart of English art history - illuminates both the predicament and the prowess of the continental emigres who did so much to shape British culture after 1945.

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The definitive biography, based on exclusive access to diaries and personal papers, as well as the archive of Pevsner's landmark series, The Buildings of England.


Wolfson History Prize 2011.


Susie Harries guides us through treacherous a sure-footed manner...A perfect blend of events, ideas and personal narrative, it is a masterpiece of the biographical genre -- George Walden Observer Harries is a careful and systematic biographer, rarely intruding when there is so much primary material, which she has corralled splendidly. The man who enormously likeable. As is this book -- Philippa Stockley Sunday Telegraph What Harries gives us, in this stunningly good book, is a very human picture of a rather phenomenal of the finest biographies I have read for years -- Simon Heffner Literary Review This is a tremendous book about a subject that engages us all...As befits the study of one of our greatest cultural historians, it is also a story of why architecture matters and, at a deeper level, how Europeans evolved the particular living spaces and political systems we see today...this immense book is a rattling good read and it is, above all, fair...Harries is especially good to Pevsner's adversaries. She gives them their say but, in the end, her hero emerges, I think, as the greater man. -- An Wilson Financial Times There was, of course, far more to Pevsner than The Buildings of England, and Susie Harries's monumental biography, which has been 20 years in the writing, covers the ground with the sort of thoroughness her subject would have appreciated... The result is both a moving portrait of a seemingly distant age in which there was a genuine belief in public education and a full and fair account of a man who contributed immeasurably to that ideal. -- Peter Parker Daily Telegraph

Author description

Susie Harries is a writer specializing in culture, history and the arts. Born in 1951 in London, where she now lives with her husband Meirion and their two sons, she read classics and classical philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge, and St Anne's College, Oxford.She has co-authored seven books with her husband, including major works on twentieth-century arts:The Academy of St Martin in the Fields (1981), The War Artists (1983) and A Pilgrim Soul: a Life of Elisabeth Lutyens (1989).She has also written for the Independent and reviewed books on the arts for The Times Literary Supplement.

Stock Information

General Fields

  • : 9780712668392
  • : Vintage
  • : Pimlico
  • : September 2009
  • : 234mm X 153mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : March 2013
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 880
  • : 880
  • : TP
  • : TP