I am usually disinclined to lump too much praise on coffee table books, which often strike me as a cheap and easy way for a publisher to re-purpose existing photographs, bash out some limited captions and sell the resulting door-stopper for an inflated sum, often relying on a ‘star’ name to write a short introduction and act as a selling point. The name in this case is art historian and BBC television presenter Dan Cruickshank who probably hasn’t stretched himself with this one-page intro, covering some key architectural themes and generally celebrating human ingenuity and artistry.
Nevertheless, turn the pages and this book contains far more information and intrigue than many others in the genre. It includes pages on more than 200 man-made structures from every continent and every age of human settlement (80 in Europe, 56 in Asia and Australasia, 31 in North America, 23 in Central and South America and 19 in Africa) and is both an aesthetically pleasing ornament and an educational encyclopaedia of global architecture styles, construction materials, religion and history.
Covering all of the most famous landmarks, from Stonehenge and Angkor Wat to the Empire State Building and the Houses of Parliament, as well as lesser known ruins, temples and churches, the book is necessarily a whistle-stop tour. Nevertheless, it manages to cram plenty in, providing enough pub-quiz titbits to keep you busy, answering questions such as why Guggenheim never saw his famous museum, why the Flatiron building is flat and why certain buildings in China feature yellow-glazed tiles.
Though the photography isn’t particularly ground-breaking, the curators of the book have picked some unusual shots. Be it the Taj Mahal shrouded in early dawn mist, or a view across the roof of Notre Dame (particularly prescient in light of the recent fire), there are some interesting views on some of our most famous monuments.
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