WESTMINSTER ABBEY

Richard Jenkyns, Author . Harvard Univ. $19.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-674-01716-0

Far from being the singular expression of a king's will to create a monument for all time, London's imposing masterwork is in fact something like the story of Europe itself: a living geography of accreted history, a "coalescence of functions" that, from one angle, can seem a junk heap of invariably outmoded ideas (sculptural, architectural and even religious), and on the other, a disorganized but breathtaking record of life, death, hope and futility that one wants to get lost in, as if one were experiencing a guided tour of the afterlife by Charon himself. Oxford don Jenkyns describes architectural qualities in intricate but not overwhelming detail, introducing the novice to new terms and concerns; he is particularly poetic in writing about light in the building, whether describing optical effects in the shadowy alcoves or the differences in the way light filters through new or old glass. In active service as a cathedral, a burial place for the esteemed and a venue for much-televised coronations and funerals, Westminster Abbey is also a clutter of monuments to poets, scientists, saints and kings, the divine and the pedestrian. If Jenkyns is not so omniscient a cultural historian as Simon Schama, he hits all the right notes briskly and cleanly, making this both a perfect tour book and a light educational read. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/07/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 214 pages - 978-1-84668-534-7
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-674-06361-7
Paperback - 215 pages - 978-0-674-06197-2
Open Ebook - 112 pages - 978-1-84765-082-5
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