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Landscape and Memory


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Simon Schama is a superstar.


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.)

'This is a tour de force of vivid historical writing... It is astonishing learned, and yet offered with verve, humour and an unflagging sense of delight.' Michael Ignatieff, IOS'Simon Schama is a giant, a great thinking machine and a golden lyricist as well. He takes us beyond geololgy and vegetation into myth and memory, to unravel the ancient connections which bring mountain, forest and river into our soul.' Brian Masters, MoS'Schama long ago established himself as one of the most learned, original and provocative historians in the English speaking world... Unclassifiable, inimitable, fascinating, Landscape and Memory will inform and haunt, chasten and enrage. It is that rarest of commodities in our cultural marketplace -- a work of genuine originality.' Anthony Grafton, New Republic'Schama's inensely visual prose is the product of an 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. He 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, NYRB

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.

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