Civilisation:  A Personal View
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Civilisation: A Personal View

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  681 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Historical & cultural synthesis of Western art, its buildings, books & great individuals. Prepared for the author's tv series.
Color Illustrations
Black & White Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Foreword
The Skin of our Teeth
The Great Thaw
Romance & Reality
Man-the Measure of all Things
The Hero as Artist
Protest & Communication
Grandeur & Obedience
The Ligh...more
Hardcover, 379 pages
Published August 10th 1969 by Harper & Row (NYC/Evanston) (first published 1969)
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Trevor
I started watching this and then bought the book. This is sumptuous. It was made in 1969 by the BBC to encourage people to buy colour television sets, I believe. As an introduction to the arts it is quite conservative. But it gives an interesting overview of the history of art and some notion of the main periods. What he calls civilisation covers a remarkably slight and slender portion of human civilisation, you know, apart from the occasional bridge, it really seems to amount to art. Nothing wr...more
Brian Gatz
God, if this were newer...Here's an incredible survey of what happened in art, philosophy, and (most importantly) architecture from ~1000-1915. It's not entirely optimistic, but looks up enough. Paths, rights, and wrongs don't much play into it. We're creating piles of architecture, sweet paintings, effortless sculpture--or we're graceful in proportion, famed in ideas, moderate in wealth, and subtle in human appreciation. If there's a pattern, it's cyclical, short, and ecstatic. Some of the best...more
Pieter
Although both the book dates back to 1969, I enjoyed the reading very much. To be honest, I read the book and watched the related DVD-series simultaneously. The DVD offers the opportunity to see also the buildings, pieces of art, paintings to which Sir Kenneth Clark refers. The book covers a history of civilisation covering more than a millenium of European history. Focus is rather on the Low Countries, Italy, Germany, France and the Isles. Little or no attention to Spain and Eastern/ Middle Eur...more
Sasha
Verbatim of classic TV series where Kenneth Clark discussed civilization of Western Europe from collapse of Roman Europe to recent times.
I am not familiar with original TV program so for me this was the first introduction with Clark and I loved it,his way with words is very classy and he surely and swiftly moves from one subject to another,in fact there were so many interesting side-stories that I started to note everything down for future research,absolutely loved his style and often would re-r...more
Izumen
http://izumen.blogspot.com/2013/11/bl...

"Цивилизацията" на Кенет Кларк е едно пътуване през човешката история в търсене на това толкова неизмеримо понятия "цивилизация". По самите думи на автора можем да съдим колко трудно е то да бъде систематизирано в едно или две изречения.

"Какво е цивилизация? Не знам. Не мога да й дам абстрактно определение-все още не. Но мисля, че мога да позная цивилизацията, когато я видя."

Този цитат хвърля най-ясна представа за съдържанието на книгата. Отказвайки се от...more
Alins
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John Sutherland
This book is a fitting companion to the excellent videos of the same name. Kenneth Clark was one of those delightful english gentlemen with an impeccable education, and who use english properly and to whom it is a pleasure to listen, and to watch (other than for seing his english dentistry). It traces the precarious survival of christian civilization in the last thousand or so years, through the accomplishments of that time that--unlike history--cannot easily lie: its Art; its Books; and its Arc...more
Douglas
From what I know of the current generation of 0 to 30+ somethings, Kenneth Clark is probably all but forgotten and perhaps, to the few who do know him, a bit off putting. The latter because he speaks as a civilized man, as a gentleman; which they are likely to assume is a form of elitism or snobbishness. They have been taught the race, class, gender perspective of history and Western history and civilization in particular. They know about Rigoberta Menchu, Western racism, "inequality," and would...more
David R.
I read this many years ago and recall being mesmerized by the late Sir Kenneth Clark's erudition and lucid delivery. This time around I saw something else. And a lot of it irritated me. I must have missed the snarky tone of an art elitist. I definitely missed the cherrypicking. To be sure there are limitations in television and only so much material can be used. To that end, I am not sure Clark picked all of the right material. But he had his point to make (way back in 1969) and that was everyth...more
Lora
What a fantastic book. Big, fat, and full of full page color pictures as well as smaller pictures, and a rambling, personal, humane, story- telling prose to fill in every space in between. Clark's humor is fun. His perspective is clear eyed. And I feel as if I'm back in college sitting in class looking at slides of ancient European art while a professor who obviously loves what he does stands there going on and on about it. I slowly fall in love with each and every piece, dream of touring Europe...more
Monica
About two-thirds of the way through, Clark makes a statement that to me sums up the whole point of the narrative: "[A]lthough one may use works of art to illustrate the history of civilization, one must not pretend that social conditions produce works of art or inevitably influence their form." This is exactly what Clark does: the progress of art is discussed in parallel with the progress in civilization, of which art is simultaneously herald, inspirator, and mirror. At times I feel that Clark d...more
Erik Graff
Feb 11, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: art
Kenneth Clark was an historian of art who wrote and narrated the first color BBC documentary, Civilisation, and produced a lavishly illustrated book along the same lines. The film was shown at Grinnell College during my freshman year. Thereafter I picked up the book.

Both book and documentary are not so much histories of art as they are histories of (primarily western) civilization earmarked to great and illustrative works of art.

Grinnell College is not the place to go if one enjoys the spendors...more
Kaye
I wonder if this isn't the original "go-with" book for a TV series? I've been reading it while watching the series (on DVD). The book is a more-or-less literal transcription of the series. Clark is wonderful. Do we have anyone of his caliber writing or doing TV series these days.

The series is visually rich and the book can only be a pale copy. Nevertheless it's nice to be able to read and stop and think about the points being made.

Small criticism of the book: The plates are not very well labelle...more
Coyle
Kenneth Clark may not know what civilization is, but he darn sure knows it when he sees it. Specifically, he knows it when he sees it in art and architecture.

A Confession:

This was a textbook I was assigned in high school. Specifically, by Ms. Scott for our Humanities class. I... may have read significantly less of it than I should have. (I did read everything assigned from our American Lit book, as well as all of Oedipus Rex and Beowulf, so it's not like I was a total slacker.) Apparently it is...more
Joe
2000 years of cultural history in about 350 pages can only result in a high level of generalisation, but Kenneth Clark is an affable if reactionary guide. Fluid and well written, it is an enjoyable read from the man in the tweed jacket. There are inevitably omissions and you need to anticipate the personal perspective of the author rather than expect a definitive account. This now feels quite dated in parts, but there is also some well grounded sense and passion in the writing that contrasts nic...more
Sue
I have owned this beautiful book for so long that I can't recall if I bought it before or after watching the TV series. I read it in 'nibbles' but have finally tackled it as a sumptuous, leisurely banquet. Such an eloquent writer and presenter, Lord Clark might have added another chapter, one for the Internet Age, had he still been around after this paperback edition (1971). What would he have made of Western civilisation of the past 40 years, and who would he have held up as 'moving humanity fo...more
Whoknew?
Just don't ask Sir Kenneth about the Spanish....funny how he could present an overview of European art without so much as a word about them. Hmmmm.
M. D.  Hudson
I first read this in high school or thereabouts and dig into it every decade or so since. This last go around was still worthwhile. Clark is refreshingly non-doctrinaire, opinionated, and prejudiced. Really, I mean this as a compliment. His prejudice, for instance, is completely understandable for somebody of his generation – he is very suspicious of Germans (he says somewhere that the lack of a clear German prose is one of western civilization’s greatest tragedies). He may not always be “right,...more
Christopher Earl
Like the series a masterpiece
Scott
There are very few books that stop me dead in my tracks because of its beauty and simplicity. Civilisation is one of those books. Sir Kenneth Clark's sweeping knowledge of art and architecture provides a survey of the visual arts with such clarity and force that one can only bow down to a master with no equal. This should be required reading for every person on the planet who aspires to have a feel for the history of art and its affect on culture, society, language and politics. A book of the hi...more
Kasandra
Great for any art lover, lots of illustrations of art I'd never seen before, including architecture, paintings, and sculpture. My only difficulty was that it presumes a tremendous knowledge of European history, which I don't have. I had to keep stopping to look things up, so it took me a while to get through this. History buffs, on the other hand, will probably find it too simplistic. If you like walking through museums and learning more about the circumstances that inspired the work, you'll enj...more
A-ron
A very good overview of Western Civilization through the lens of art. Kenneth Clark had written and narrated an amazing television series on this subject. This book is nearly a complete transcript of that series, rewritten and expanded to compensate for the relative shortage of images and music.

Given that study of Western Civilization was deemphasized during the 90's in American Colleges, I found this book enlightening, filling in the gaps I missed during my education.
Rachel
Well. I don't know how it went down in 1969, but I found the general elitism and snobbery very off-putting. I think he vastly overrates the importance of art in history, but then he was an art historian so he would. I did find the chapter on counter-reformation art particularly revolting, and his assumption that Italian kowtowing to the Catholic church was preferable to Protestant honest truth-searching quite baffling. Don't think I'll be recommending this.
David Stag
Best part of the book was Clark's selection of personal cultural favorites. He only gives the reader the best art/architectural works of the past centuries. I do not always agree with his point of view (or interpretations), but his point of view is always explained clearly. His objective is to show how mankind's progress (attitudes) through the centuries has been reflected in various cultural creations of the periods, and he does this remarkably well.
Vladimir
A companion book to a TV show that ran on BBC2 in the '70s. It covers Western European 'civilisation' from the Early Middle Ages to the 19th century, mostly through art and architecture. Lightweight but recommended for its humanizing anecdotes about figures like Abbot Suger, Erasmus, and Descartes, and for the author's amusingly patrician, pompous, very English style.
Hubertus W.
"Civilisation" ,as a TV series and book, was a life-inspiring experience. It influenced my course choices at USC
and my travels in Europe. Kenneth Clark was my mentor and hero. I created a high school-level course in the
Humanities with him as the inspiration. I hope that I helped spread the complete joy that art offers and Clark
extolled.
Hubertus W. Zegers
Carolin
Finally getting round to reading this after having picked it up from a library sale a few years ago. The series is on BBC HD again at the moment.
There is no need to read it while you watch the series, the text is nearly exactly the same as what Clark is saying on tv and the picture quality is better on tv too. But it's an important and really good book!
Larsenross
Well illustrated.

The author wrote that he did not think that the Reformation did have a positive effect on the art of Europe. He was sad that some of the reformers were destructive of actual objects of art.

In college I saw a documentary that went along with this book. It was a very heady experience.
Danielle Sofio
In high school, I misunderstood our assignment (which was to read one chapter) and read the entire book. I loved this and for many years could not find out what I had read. All I can recall is that this book was so interesting and absorbing to my teenage mind. Hope to read it again now that I found it on Goodreads!
Dewey Norton
After taking a terrific course in art history at Penn, I heard about this book which was new at the time and Clark's films on this subject. Diane and I went the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see all 10 of them and read the book chapters in between. A fabulous overview of western art and architecture.
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58392
There is more than one author with this name

Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA (13 July 1903 – 21 May 1983) was a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians of his generation. In 1969, he achieved an international popular presence as the writer, producer, and presenter of the BBC Television series, Civilisation.
More about Kenneth Clark...
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“I believe order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last two thousand years; and in consequence we must try to learn from history.” 19 likes
“At this point I reveal myself in my true colours, as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last two thousand years; and in consequence we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves. I also hold one or two beliefs that are more difficult to put shortly. For example, I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people's feelings by satisfying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole. All living things are our brothers and sisters. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.” 13 likes
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