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 Göttingen. 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 émigrés who did so much to shape British culture after 1945.
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Susie Harries guides us through treacherous territory...in a sure-footed manner...A perfect blend of events, ideas and personal narrative, it is a masterpiece of the biographical genre - 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 emerges...is enormously likeable. As is this book - Sunday Telegraph
What Harries gives us, in this stunningly good book, is a very human picture of a rather phenomenal man...one of the finest biographies I have read for years - 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. - 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. - Daily Telegraph
Susie Harries has given a private face to the public intellectual...This biography is an important and heroic work of reclamation and rehabilitation - The Times
There is more in this book than can possibly be reflected in this brief review. The ease of Harries's writing will reward any reader but the broader currents of the cultural history of the 20th century that are described as the background to Pevsner's life make this book very valuable indeed. - Evening Standard
Few books have occasioned the contest of superlatives with which Susie Harries's Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life has been greeted - Guardian
A stupendous achievement...Harries's method is a combination of intelligent sensitivity and unfailing rigour - Independent
Eminently readable, a must for lovers of art history and architecture alike - Time Out
Marvellous...Harries has already shown herself a brilliant summariser of intentions and qualities...It is impossible to praise too highly her unostentatious way of doing this, so perceptive, so jargon-free. - Building Design
Throughout this long and varied life, there is never any doubt about Ms Harries's seriousness of purpose and her engagement with her subject. - The Economist
There is more than enough in the packed pages of this excellent book for readers to assess for themselves what manner of man Pevsner was. - The Victorian
Magnificent...It is no small compliment to say that in its attention to detail, it s eye for pattern, and its ear for the apposite phrase, this biography is worthy of its subject. - Times Literary Supplement
This is an impressive biography of a remarkable man. On both counts it deserves to be widely read - BBC History Magazine
The best new book I have read this year - New Statesman, Books of the Year
Biographies don't come better than Nikolaus Pevsner - Evening Standard, Books of the Year
Shows a complete mastery of the many different areas, cultural, political and artistic, in which this complex and essential figure moved and made his mark. The book's very fitting scale and tirelessness are more than matched by its wit, subtlety and human understanding - Guardian, Books of the Year
The subtlety with which Susie Harries has portrayed his extraordinary achievements, always pitted against an underlying sense of ambivalence and self-doubt, makes this a quite exceptional life - History Today
This is a biographical masterpiece that shows how the life of one man can become a prism through which can be read the stories of both England and Germany in the 20th century...[Harries] book is of infinite value. - Alexandra Harris
A biography almost as comprehensive as the BofE [Buildings of England] itself...It's been worth the 20 year wait - Independent on Sunday
What Harries brings to the table is the most intimate portrait of Pevsner yet - Sunday Times
This is not just a fair-minded biography, but also an impressive and comprehensive one. An enormous one too... even the obsessives will discover new things - Spectator
Magnificent...in Susie Harries's hands, Pevsner's story unlocks a vitally important chapter in 20th-century history...told with warmth, lucidity and wit - Art Quarterly
Deft and judicious...The subtlety with which Susie Harries has portrayed his extraordinary achievements, always pitted against an underlying sense of ambivalence and self-doubt, makes this a quite exceptional life - History Today
A perfect blend of events, ideas and personal narrative... a masterpiece of the biographical genre 20 years in the making. - Observer
Stunningly good... one of the finest biographies I have read for years. - Literary Review
An important and heroic work of reclamation and rehabilitation. - The Times
Cracking. - Architects' Journal
This is a very fluent book in which Harries reconstructs not just the man but a time of extraordinary cultural change in which he played such a leading part - Guardian
The scale, skill and enjoyment of this book would surely have earned typical praise from its subject: ‘Most rewarding’ - Independent
800 pages that engross and sometimes amuse - Sunday Telegraph
With proper footnotes and a thorough index, this biography by Susie Harries is the Pevsner of Pevsner - National Churches Trust Newsletter
Only a biography of this magisterial scope and scrupulousness can do justice to such a visionary - Wiltshire Archeological and Natural History Magazine
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 TheTimes Literary Supplement.