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Albion: The History of The English Imagination Hardcover – Dec 10 2002

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Hardcover, Dec 10 2002
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 516 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; 1 edition (Dec 10 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1856197212
  • ISBN-13: 978-1856197212
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,169,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This was the third Peter Ackroyd book I tried to read. First was his biography of Thomas Moore ¨C which I finished and enjoyed. The second was ¡°London - a Biography¡± ¨C which I loved to distraction at the outset but didn¡¯t finish because it exhausted me with its cyclical (I won¡¯t say repetitious) structure.
¡°London¡± and ¡°Albion¡± share the trait of collecting many aspects of their subject with little chronological progression ¨C so that the reader is lead along with ¡°another aspect, another aspect, one after another..¡±
In the case of London I was finally exhausted and gave up ¨C although I had started with an excitement and love for the subject that was (I assume) all that Ackroyd had wanted to induce. But it just didn¡¯t sustain in the face of continuing new aspects ¨C again and again ¨C with no apparent development or other sequencing to provide an over-riding structure. In fact the lack of development was for me so intense it ate away at my interest, energy and finally my patience. When I was reading it, I had visited London several times and was en-route again ¨C so interest was high and the subject was not unknown ¨C but I am not an intimate of London. It is not my city.
¡°Albion¡± takes a loosely chronological approach. Not strict ¨C but enough for the reader to sense progression as it unfolds. This is a major difference but not the key one I think.
Ackroyd¡¯s subject here is ¡°the English Imagination¡± ¨C but really the whole spectrum of art, literature experience and thought.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
An erudite scrapbook Aug. 22 2004
By MartinP - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Though I'm almost worryingly Anglophile, I did not find this an all too easy read. The book's structure is unclear - it seems to start out chronologically, but halfway through continues thematically. It is also rather fragmented, though this has the advantage of offering something for everyone; it's like picking through trinkets at some bric-a-brac store. Ackroyd's massive erudition is never in doubt, but it is a pity he seems more concerned with showing it off rather than curtailing it within the confines of a coherent argument. At times the author lapses into mere namedropping that struck me as rather random. Nor is his argument always consistent. E.g., he notes that English gardening is suffused with territorial and warlike thinking and terminology; yet, two pages on he states that English gardens are characterised by meandering lines that bespeak of a "distaste for regimentation."

Be aware also that Ackroyd's interpretation of "imagination" veers very much towards literature; architecture, landscape gardening, painting and music are treated cursorily at best - there is a final chapter on music, but it covers only a few pages and deals almost exclusively with Vaughan Williams.

In general I'm not at all convinced that Ackroyd succeeds in making a case for the specificity of English imagination. He cites many examples for which equivalents could, it seems to me, with equal ease be found in French or German art. Just a glance at a Caspar David Friedrich painting will be enough to show you that there is nothing peculiarly English about a melancholy obsession with the transience of things. Parts of this book are thought-provoking, parts are entertaining, and all of it is definitely well-written. But in the final reckoning it does no more than vaguely delineate the outlines of a hypothesis; it certainly does not prove it. The essence of the undeniably peculiar Englishness that suffuses works by Gainsborough, Turner, Britten, Elgar, Shakespeare, Dickens, "Capability" Brown and Vanbrugh alike (to name just a very few) simply eludes these pages. What you are left with is an erudite scrapbook.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
The Enlgish (read Anglo-Saxon) Imagination Nov. 28 2003
By Ricky Hunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Peter Ackroyd is never at a loss for words and he uses a great many of them to trace the origins and progression of the English imagination from its very early Anglo-Saxon beginnings until the twentienth century in his new massive tome, Albion. Along the way, he covers music, art, religion, philosophy, history, and biography, as well as, of course, literature, and merges them together in quite insightful ways. The book is strongest in the early Anglo-Saxon and medieval sections that set up the author's thesis and it can grow a tad bit repetitious in theme in the later chapters as he pounds home his ideas. Overall though, the reader should be fascinated by the vast number of examples from primary (and some interesting secondary) sources that pepper the book. The author's knowledge is vast and his selection of sources is unimpeccable. A frequently interesting read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Albion Betrayed May 7 2012
By Randaal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The idea of this book is what attracted me to it, leading to the purchase and subsequent ill-fated adventure through its pages. The idea is that the English imagination, the thought-paradigm that governs the English speaking worlds' collective consciousness has roots and branches that can be assessed and appreciated. Perhaps even all of these arts through time might be brought together and some general, profound, notions of the English imagination can be divined. Perhaps it was a little too rosy to expect as much from this book, but any enthusiasm I had for the mission of this book was quickly replaced with dissatisfaction and sincere angst at the execution and direction of the book.

P.A. seems to want to shove as many references as he can into each paragraph--a fantastic indicator of his intelligence and breadth of reading--but instead of serving to show the full body of English canon, he stifles any evaluative or critical thought making each paragraph a limb to a series Frankenstein-like chapters made of the disembodied quotes from English masters. Instead of focusing on a few highly-influential concepts, figures or works, he goes the other way; Ackroyd sprinkes shallow references and quotes that only superficially connect to what he's talking about. The problem with this is that there are a lot of genuinely enjoyable concepts that the author tries to address, but his style and execution get in the way. He maintains a scholarly tone without any real scholarship, where he might have had better luck approaching the subject with a more light-hearted prose and down the pretention-level a bit. The reason this book has such a low grade from me is because it had the conceptual potential to be a fantastic read with some real profound observations. Instead, what one gets is a patchwork, a scrapbook of references without real context. Simply put, look elsewhere if you're trying to delve into the magic and grace of English art and literature.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
What makes an Englishman? April 20 2011
By Iosephus Bibliothecarius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Albion traces ideas, images and patterns across the centuries to consider what it means to be English. Any Anglophile will enjoy the many and varied cultural references linked within Ackroyd's dense but fascinating text. Beginning and ending with Englishmen I admire (historian the Venerable Bede (d. 735) and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (d. 1958)), these two disparate personalities were brought together in one memorable statement: "The embrace of present and past time, in which English antiquarianism becomes a form of alchemy, engenders a strange timelessness. It is as if the little bird which flew through the Anglo-Saxon banqueting hall, in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, gained the outer air and became the lark ascending in Vaughan Williams's orchestral setting. The unbroken chain is that of English music itself." To me, reading this book was like examining the contents of an ancient attic trunk, ruminating on the people, places, and things that made you who you are. When you come to the end of your literary pilgrimage, you're better for having experienced it.
Second purchase, I moved and missed this when left behind. Sept. 11 2013
By Roberta R. Hilliger - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have a Peter Ackroyd book collection that I go back to over and over again.
I give copies to interested relatives and have to replace mine. This book is my favorite, but they all are.

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