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4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,452 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Kenneth Clark's sweeping narrative looks at how Western Europe evolved in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire, to produce the ideas, books, buildings, works of art and great individuals that make up our civilisation. The author takes us from Iona in the ninth century to France in the twelfth, from Florence to Urbino, from Germany to Rome, England, Holland and Amer ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published 1987 by Penguin (first published 1969)
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  1,452 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, art
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
Roy Lotz
I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room

I must admit immediately that I have never read nor even laid eyes on this book. I’m sure it’s lovely. This review is, rather, about the television series, which I’d wager is twice as lovely.

Civilisation is the best documentary I’ve ever seen. Kenneth Clark takes his viewer from the Dark Ages, through romanesque, gothic, the Renaissance, the Reformation, baroque,
John Hatley
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent, beautifully illustrated book based on the fascinating BBC television series that was broadcast in the first half of 1969. If it is still in print or available as an antiquarian book, I can recommend it highly to anyone who likes post-Roman empire European history, art, or any well-written non-fiction literature.
Sense Of  History
This book is 50 years old, and only the paper version of a BBC-TV-series. As a young man I saw this series and was very impressed by the erudition of Clark and his strong views. So many years later, these views obviously are very outdated; the narrow Western focus today would be completely out of the question; moreover, Clark did not venture into the twentieth century art, though we do have the impression that he has a not so flattering opinion about it. Some of his remarks, we would be ashamed ...more
This weekend I have indulged myself with a visit to Hatchard's Piccadilly, London's oldest bookstore. For those who haven't been there yet - I strongly recommend you do next time you are in the city! It is a fabulous place. A bookstore as the bookstores were meant to be. Full of charm, treasures to be found and quirky intelligent staff. Perhaps it is not where one goes bargain-hunting, but their selection is superb. Most of the new releases available 'signed by the author' and they are also offe ...more
An Idler
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kenneth Clark was a mixed bag. On the one hand he believed in many sensible things: that society needs institutions, order is better than chaos, creation is better than destruction, and in sympathy over ideology, knowledge over ignorance, gentleness over violence, and forgiveness over vendetta. He believed in a need to learn from history. He believed in a basic lack of change in human nature over millennia.

These are the observations of a sober and honest man.

He also correctly predicted from what
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
Katie Bayford
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most sublime books I have ever had the fortune of reading. I must revisit and revisit in the years to come.
Brian Gatz
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Outdated of course now, but charming because of his erudition. I saw the BBC-series more than 40 years ago. More on my Sense-of-history-account on Goodreads: ...more
Sep 14, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Watched the series produced from this book more times than I can remember. It is narrated by the author and mesmerizing. Need to get the book (which has been on my shelf for a number of years) down and read it!
Carol Tensen
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I picked this up at a thrift shop because I didn't see the BBC series back in the late sixties. I was always attracted to the image of Charlemagne on the cover. This being a series of essays rather than a linear history of art and civilization, Clark leads us through the development of Western Europe through some interesting generalizations: that craft (text illumination, decoration, reliquaries) led to art and architecture during the middle ages; that the age of reason eventually led to a "Wors ...more
John Sutherland
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A splendid walk through the museum of Western civilisation, covering primarily its architecture and its paintings since the Dark Ages, but also touching on music and literature, with a highly educated and worldly tour guide. Kenneth Clark holds up art as a mirror to Western society, a reflection of its concerns, ideas and most intense feelings. Although the author is careful to note that art does not necessarily imitate life (perhaps, the opposite is true), his narrative draws clear links from g ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
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
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From Aurelius to Aristotle and from Michelangelo to Byron, the presenter Kenneth Clark had an exquisite taste that any man would die for. If I can travel back in time, I would definitely want his company all day long and listen to his observations and findings of Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance. And yes, I love his tweeds!
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kunst
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
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not familiar with the related TV show, but this book is nothing like a television production. It is an interesting and subjective look at how art, architecture and literature shaped Western civilisation. I'm sure Clark would have added other parts of the world as well, but he himself admits int he book that he doesn't know enough about other civilisations to make such comments (though he does tip his hat to those civilisations when he can).

The book starts at around the middle of the first ce
Although this book went in a different direction from what I expected, I still found it thought-provoking and worthwhile to read. Clark seeks to give the reader his take on the development of European society of the last thousand years through the movements in its architecture and art. He starts with the collapsed of the Roman Empire and follows the different artistic movements that arose during the “barbarian” invasions as they morphed from imitating the Roman style to developing their own. He ...more
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Civilisation, based upon a TV series of the same name, is a detailed exploration of the history of Western art and philosophy by historian Kenneth Clark. Clark takes the reader on a journey through European history, illustrating the zeitgeist of each epoch through the most representative pieces of architecture, paintings, sculptures, and literature. For the most part his commentary is very interesting, but one difficulty I had is that as somebody who has a very limited understanding of the world ...more
Erik Graff
May 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeff Howells
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the updated series is currently on TV, this is a good time to read the book that accompanied Kenneth Clarke’s original documentary ‘Civilisation’ back in 1969. I watched it several years ago and loved it. The book is essentially Clarke’s narrative stripped of all the luscious visuals and music.
It’s interesting to compare Clarke’s version with this year’s modern updating. Clarke’s was essentially a chronological wander through the history of Western art & architecture. The programmes of Schama
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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. ...more
Fraser Kinnear
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, greece, art, rome
I bought this, along with some Seamus Heaney poetry, at Hatchards on Picadilly in London last Christmas. The book itself is fine, but what makes this a truly great experience is reading it alongside the 1969 BBC miniseries (easy to find on YoutTube) that it is mostly a transcript for.

Clark’s personality as a quirky old toff shines through on the first pages (e.g., “Fine words: and fine words butter no parsnips”), but it’s watching him stand in front of dusty forgotten corners of crumbling churc
Randy Wilson
Kenneth Clark narrated a 13 part series for the BBC called Civilization in 1969 which was widely praised but fifty years on feels awfully white, male and privileged.  Yet the knee-jerk PC reaction to dismiss his effort misses his point.  Clark wasn’t so interested in claiming the white, male and privileged supremacy of civilization but to look at what made human efforts at culture, art and literature worthy of examination.  Had someone presented him with a series focused on the achievement of wo ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A companion volume to the Television series, this short work reviews western civilisation in terms of art and artefacts rather than political or economic forces. Sadly it is unillustrated, so one really has to refer to the television series to complete the picture, and obtain the visual references. That being said Clark does to confine himself to the visual arts but address music and the written arts as well.

This is a truly well written and thoroughly entertaining work by a man who had the where
Luis Colorado Nates
I was hoping to recapture in this book the memories from the landmark TV series narrated by Kenneth Clark. Regrettably, the quality of the illustrations is low, which is a big disappointment. Besides the pictures, the text seems, for the most part, to be an abridged version of the series script. For all of that, I take off a star.

Nonetheless, Mr. Clark's brilliant narrative and humane insights are still there. The subtle humor, the enthrallment, and the dissappointment are all there. Despite my
Kim Sasso
Ha Ha! In 1999 I wrote about this book: "Chapter 1 and I am already offended! Clark is so dated! What small mind wrote,about, "the negro imagination," that created the African mask, or about "the late antique world, full of meaninless rituals, mystery religious, that destroyed self-confidence." *** I went on to discover "stuff I liked," and I made a few notes. but I clearly did not complete this book. I don't think I ever even saw the companion television show. I know Clark remains a big name in ...more
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There is more than one author with this name

Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA 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.

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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.” 39 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.” 33 likes
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