The Face of Britain

The Face of Britain : The Nation through Its Portraits

3.97 (119 ratings by Goodreads)
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Simon Schama brings Britain to life through its portraits, as seen in the five-part BBC series The Face of Britain and the major National Portrait Gallery exhibitionChurchill and his painter locked in a struggle of stares and glares; Gainsborough watching his daughters run after a butterfly; a black Othello in the nineteenth century; the poet-artist Rossetti trying to capture on canvas what he couldn't possess in life; a surgeon-artist making studies of wounded faces brought in from the Battle of the Somme; a naked John Lennon five hours before his death.In the age of the hasty glance and the selfie, Simon Schama has written a tour de force about the long exchange of looks from which British portraits have been made over the centuries: images of the modest and the mighty; of friends and lovers; heroes and working people. Each of them - the image-maker, the subject, and the rest of us who get to look at them - are brought unforgettably to life. Together they build into a collective picture of Britain, our past and our present, a look into the mirror of our identity at a moment when we are wondering just who we are. Combining his two great passions, British history and art history, for the first time, Schama's extraordinary storytelling reveals the truth behind the nation's most famous portrayals of power, love, fame, the self, and the people. Mesmerising in its breadth and its panache, and beautifully illustrated, with more than 150 images from the National Portrait Gallery, The Face of Britain will change the way we see our past - and more

Product details

  • Hardback | 632 pages
  • 161 x 240 x 53mm | 1,504g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 100 full colour pictures
  • 0670922293
  • 9780670922291
  • 149,651

Review quote

Schama's greatest gift is a sure eye for an extraordinary story...This isn't what you get from conventional historians or conventional art writers, more's the pity...Schama has written books which will still be bought and talked about a century from now and he hasn't lost an ounce of zest or intelligence. Damn him... -- Andrew Marr * Prospect * He knows the history, the biography, and the art history...he made me look and learn. He is a great storyteller and we learn something new on every page. -- A S Byatt * New Statesman * All of these lives rendered with an acuity of detail that could rival the best of portraitists ... describing Lawrence's portrait of Wilberforce, Schama calls the painting a work of "transforming empathy". That phrase could be true of his storytelling throughout this book. -- Ekow Eshun * The Independent * Simon Schama's richly illustrated history of Britain in portraits is a work of dazzling panache ... a book to devour. -- John Carey * Sunday Times * He has animated our portraits superlatively. One of our most in-demand public intellectuals has deftly ventriloquised his talking heads. -- Stephen Smith * Evening Standard * Wonderfully compelling ... what this book, full of unhackneyed paintings and unfamiliar stories, shows is that when Schama is at his best he can see straight through people. -- Michael Prodger * The Times * Rich in its variety of subjects ... poignantly memorable -- Martin Gayford * Telegraph * Some of the best writing on British portraiture I have read. -- Bendor Grosvenor * Financial Times * He is both an inspired communicator of detail and context, an excitable and exciting critic and a sleeve-tugging gossip. The idea of portraiture is a perfect vehicle for his detailed imagination...the subjects of the portraits become uncannily alive. -- Tim Adams * The Observer * Viewers of his TV shows know what a passionate presenter of his subject - art history - Simon Schama is. He button-holes your eye on his inward voyage of imagination. He does it as compulsively on the page as on screen ... I welcome back in this book history as people - people whose characters can be read in their fascinating faces. -- Peter Lewis * Daily Mail * Inspiring ... Schama tells it with panache, weaving facts and anecdotes into a vivid history. * Observer on 'The Story of the Jews' * Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict * Financial Times on 'A History of Britain' * With Schama you look at a picture and see it as you hadn't before * Telegraph on 'Rembrandt's Eyes' * Splendid, spirited, immensely enjoyable and wide-ranging * Financial Times on 'The Story of the Jews' * Shows Schama at his best . . . as full of memorable incident as a Bellow novel and wittier than a Woody Allen movie * The Times on 'The Story of the Jews' * Schama writes with grace and wit, and his enthusiasms are contagious * Anita Brookner on 'The Embarrassment of Riches' * Dazzling, beyond praise * Sunday Times on 'Citizens' * Splendid...seething with ideas. Schama brings great intimacy and authority to proceedings * New York Times Book Review *show more

About Simon Schama

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of seventeen books, including The Embarrassment of Riches, Citizens, Landscape and Memory, Rembrandt's Eyes, the History of Britain trilogy and The Story of the Jews. He is a contributing editor of the Financial Times and his award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain and the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of more

Review Text

Schama's greatest gift is a sure eye for an extraordinary story ...This isn't what you get from conventional historians or conventional art writers, more's the pity... Schama has written books which will still be bought and talked about a century from now and he hasn't lost an ounce of zest or intelligence. Damn him... Andrew Marr Prospectshow more

Rating details

119 ratings
3.97 out of 5 stars
5 29% (34)
4 45% (54)
3 22% (26)
2 3% (4)
1 1% (1)
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