(by Simon Schama) (1995)
This is an art history, but written from the psychiatrist’s couch. It is a cultural – that is to say, a psychological – sociology of the product of human minds under stimulus from our ‘natural’ environment – wood, water, stone – primarily judged from the perspective of the visual arts.
Schama observes that even landscapes we consider unspoilt bear our imprint, largely due to our own awareness, but maintains that the natural environment can be both celebrated and cosseted through the machinery of our cultural memory. It is a perverse argument, Freudian almost, but what makes the book worthwhile is the extraordinary magpie-mind of the author, who draws the threads of what we may loosely call his ‘argument’ from such a rich and inspirational stock of sources that one is dazzled and persuaded, not by logic but sheer weight of wonderful evidence. It’s a mad, beautiful work of arts.