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Civilisation: A Personal View

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,173 Ratings  ·  85 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
Hardcover, 379 pages
Published August 10th 1969 by Harper & Row (NYC/Evanston) (first published 1969)
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May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, history
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, roc
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Nick Gibson
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
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
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
This book is more than 50 years old, and only the paper version of a BBC-TV-series. As a young man I saw some parts of it and was very impressed by the erudition of Clark and his strong vision. So many years later, that vision obviously is 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 wo ...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
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!
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
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
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.
Erik Graff
May 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Мартин Касабов

"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
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.
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.
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
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
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 Sc
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great survey of Western Arts and culture in the conversational manner of a favorite dinner companions.
Dzmitry Kishylau
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book in a rare genre "great person writes about their favorite things". It was mentioned in one of Paul Graham's old essays. It's about evolution of Western European civilization, viewed through the lens of art, architecture and literature. Technically it's not even a book - it's a script for an old TV series, but the writing is great. I had paperback edition that didn't have any illustrations whatsoever (kind of an odd decision for a book about art, but not fatal in the age of google imag ...more
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civilization
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
C. Haucat
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seldom is a book written with such poise, erudition, and love for its subject matter. Kenneth Clark, a respected (if controversial) art historian and educator, guides the reader through roughly 1400 years of Western art, starting with the six centuries following the fall of Rome and ending in the mid-20th century. Its ambitious chronology aside, Civilisation concerns itself with a wide array of disciplines. Though the visual arts occupy the center of the book's discussions, other subjects - from ...more
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The last time I picked up this book & was unable to put it down, was in September, 2001. My story now begins with me taking it off the shelf last Wednesday to reread a section Clark wrote about Michelangelo's David, & I haven't been able to put it down this time either. This would culminate a 3rd complete reading since being introduced to "Civilisation" as a text in a Humanities class, my first year of college, Spring 1979.

My professors today conclude that Clark is opinionated, pompous,
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Czarny Pies
Oct 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one. This wonderful book has clearly been superseded.
Recommended to Czarny by: My mother.
Shelves: european-history
This book is essentially the script from Kenneth Clark's magnificent BBC Televison series on the history of Western European art. Clark makes it very clear that his goal is to help the person with a casual interest in art appreciate the great works of France, Italy, Germany and England. For this reason the examples that he used for every period were taken from museums, places, churches and cathedrals that granted easy access to the general public.

The TV series then provided an excellent preparat
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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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.
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.” 34 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.” 31 likes
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