> Skip to content
  • Published: 15 February 2013
  • ISBN: 9780712668392
  • Imprint: Pimlico
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 928
  • RRP: $65.00

Nikolaus Pevsner

The Life




The definitive biography, based on exclusive access to diaries and personal papers, as well as the archive of Pevsner's landmark series, The Buildings of England.

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.

  • Published: 15 February 2013
  • ISBN: 9780712668392
  • Imprint: Pimlico
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 928
  • RRP: $65.00

About the author

Susie Harries

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.

Praise for Nikolaus Pevsner

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

George Walden, 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

Philippa Stockley, 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

Simon Heffner, 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.

AN Wilson, 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.

Peter Parker, 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

Iain Finlayson, 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.

Kieran Long, 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

Frances Spalding, Independent

Eminently readable, a must for lovers of art history and architecture alike

Wayne Gooderham, 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.

Geoffrey Best, 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.

Stefan Collini, Times Literary Supplement

This is an impressive biography of a remarkable man. On both counts it deserves to be widely read

Peter Draper, BBC History Magazine

The best new book I have read this year

Simon Heffer, New Statesman, Books of the Year

Biographies don't come better than Nikolaus Pevsner

George Walden, 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

Alan Hollinghurst, 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

Gillian Darley, 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.

New Statseman, Alexandra Harris

A biography almost as comprehensive as the BofE [Buildings of England] itself...It's been worth the 20 year wait

Matthew Bell, Independent on Sunday

What Harries brings to the table is the most intimate portrait of Pevsner yet

Hugh Pearman, 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

Harry Mount, 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.

Simon Heffer, Literary Review

An important and heroic work of reclamation and rehabilitation.

The Times

Cracking.

James Pallister, 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

Michael Prodger, 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

Robin M Healey, Wiltshire Archeological and Natural History Magazine

Highly engaging.

Good Book Guide

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

George Walden, Observer

Related titles