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In Ruins Hardcover – October 8, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st American ed edition (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421990
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #948,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"If I am lonely in a foreign country," confesses Woodward, director of Britain's Holburne Museum of Art, " I search for ruins." Great houses and haunted ones, ruins of antiquity and of modern wars, suburban remnants and monastic shells form his terrain in this erudite, brisk and invigorating walk through lost domains. "Ruins do not speak," says Woodward, "we speak for them." In this compact but capacious book, Woodward brings forth the voices of architects, diarists, sculptors, eccentrics, archeologists, even a boxer. Woodward himself is present, sometimes traveling, sometimes reading, but never as an intrusive presence. Although Byron may have felt "the air of Greece" made him a poet, Woodward is certain that it was "the clammy mists of a ruined English abbey" and the effects are present in his own heightened, engaging prose, which often finds literary ghosts among the stones. From Virginia Water in Surrey, the largest artificial ruin in Britain, to Ninfa ("the loveliest lost city in Europe") and the real life inspirations for the abodes of Miss Havisham, the Ushers and Ozymandias, Woodward ventures to Ephesus (where St. Paul preached) and the magnificently over-designed John Soane's Museum, London (where he served as curator). The Roman Coliseum morphs from terrifying entertainment arena to cow pasture and stone quarry to major tourist attraction visited by, among the many, Hawthorne and Hardy. If "[a] ruin is a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator," this book listens in intently.-- ruin is a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator," this book listens in intently.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The ruins of majestic buildings, monuments, or colossal figures have long been objects of contemplation and sources of creative inspiration. They are reminders of the vulnerability of empire, the fragility of artistic endeavor, and the transience of human ambition. Woodward, director of the Holburne Museum of Art (Bath, England), visits the remains of the Roman Colosseum, deteriorated English abbeys and monasteries, neglected mansions of Cuban sugar barons, and the abandoned palaces of the Moorish princes of Sicily and the sultans of Zanzibar, charting the impact of such decay on the literature and art of the 16th to 20th centuries. As images, symbols, or motifs, they have informed the canvases of Piranesi and Constable, the poetry of Shelley ("Ozymandias") and Byron ("Childe Harold"), and the fiction of Poe ("Fall of the House of Usher"), to cite only some of Woodward's many representations. In this penetrating study Woodward also elaborates on the 19th-century European gentry's fancy for commissioning landscape architects to create contemplative false ruins, or "follies," amid their woodland estates. Recommended for all libraries.
Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John Barbey on November 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Here is the best description of the fascination of ruins that I have ever read. It is full of surprises and wonderful illustrations. There is nothing little about the spirit of this book - Woodward writes beautifully and has a perfect grasp of the sublime aesthetics of fine ruins. The reader is swept through a wide range of time, and of time periods, from antiquity to the present day. All throughout are marvelous, pithy descriptions - a super book !!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Curt DiCamillo on November 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The erudite Woodward has written an enormously entertaining and illuminating book whose rich, flowing prose is a pleasure to read. History is blended with the starkness of the modern world and transmitted to the reader redolent with imagery. Woodward's broad, firm grasp of history and effective weaving of desperate elements produces a satisfying read for those intrigued by the forgotten corners of the world and the mystery of the past. "In Ruins" is destined to become a classic. The residue of a romantic, misty past lingers long after the last page is turned.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By William Timothy Lukeman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 31, 2015
Format: Hardcover
I stumbled on this book at a library sale, and happily for me, picked it up on a whim. From the first few pages I was enthralled & under its spell, as Christopher Woodward explored the history -- and more importantly, the mysterious, evocative attraction -- of ruins. His erudition is more than matched by his passion for his subject, and he effortlessly weaves historical fact, literary & artistic interpretation, melancholy & personal anecdote into a shimmering, shadowed braid that binds centuries & memories. As previous reviewers have noted, you can dip into these pages at any point & be caught up in rumination & wonder. It's a meditation more than anything else, a meandering path that invites contemplation & reverie on the part of the reader. After all, the essence of a ruin is that what isn't present any longer, the gaps & emptiness, is what stimulates the mind the most -- it engages both imagination & empathy for what was, and for what's been lost. And as Woodward notes, it makes us think about our own lives & what we leave behind ... or don't. Especially lovely are the passages on ruins in the embrace of flowering Nature, petrified time surrounded by green & vivid life, that seems to summon up & accentuate ghosts all the more. It's a joy that such a book can still get published today, and it's one to be re-read many times -- most highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Todd Nolan on January 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Harold Bloom writes that what makes some authors great to the point where their work approaches the canonical is "strangeness, a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange." This meditation on ruins will surely withstand the test of time as well or better than some of the memorials of history that it describes. It has piqued my interest in something that I'd never given much thought to. I have been within walking distance of a couple of places the author writes about, and passed on the opportunity to visit them. Histories comprise more than half of my leisure reading, but somehow I couldn't muster the curiosity to explore a historical ruin in the same way I would with museums & historic landmarks (that are still in one piece). This wonderfully written book has changed that for me. Highly recommended, a book that you will likely want to re-read every few years, and take with you on visits to Rome, Sicily, Wales and more.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Charlus on August 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Everything you wanted to know about ruins but hadn't thought to ask. The role ruins play in the imaginative life of European culture: a reflection on mortality and the transience of civilizations, among other interpretations. Modeled after "The Haunts of the Black Masseur" it is often fascinating, consistently well-written but on occasion seemed to go on too long. The last chapter was the most moving as the personal histories seemed the most tragic and affecting. An intriguing cultural history, as told by an obsessed historian as a labor of love.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
IN RUINS by Christopher Woodward is one of the most genteel, warmly evocative, yet scholarly extended essays about beauty that has appeared in a while. Only a true artist could 1) come up with the idea of meditating on ruins of past civilizations and 2) recreate historical places not only through his own perceptive eyes but also through the eyes and writings and drawings and paintings of artists for the past two hundred years. Woodward finds beauty in the "neglected" ruins, the old sites where nature has nudged the surfaces with wild flowers, mosses, crawling vines, and ground swells, preferring this respect for times past to the wild flurry of the preservationists who seek to 'restore' these treasures to their 'original glory' but often invite tourism with its adjunctive sales, stands, and souvenirs. He has visited the ruins of Rome, of Sicily, Cuba, England, etc and is distraught when he finds these various havens for poets sequestered with guardrails and other implements of distraction. "..the artist is inevitably at odds with the archeologist. In the latter discipline the scattered fragments of stone are parts of a jigsaw, or clues to a puzzle to which there is only one answer, as in a science laboratory; to the artist, by contrast, any answer which is imaginative is correct." "What [poet] Shelley's experience shows is that the vegetation which grows on ruins appeals to the depths of our consciousness, for it represents the hand of Time, and the contest between the individual and the universe.Read more ›
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