Arts and crafts, three books about China, and readers' picks.
The Arts and Crafts Movement, by Rosalind P. Blakesley
Just before the turn of the 20th century, the Arts and Crafts movement took root in England, primarily in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Its intent was to counteract the dehumanizing effects of the modern workplace by encouraging the artisan and craftsman to rediscover the joy in their life's work. Aghast at the mind-numbing effects that mechanization and rote repetition were having on the English worker ("men are grown mechanical in head and heart"), the leaders of the movement sought to elevate the craftsman's work environment to a position of pride and professional joy.
In this revolutionary view, the work of craftsmen was valued as highly as that of architects, painters, and sculptors. All were encouraged to join together to create homes and goods for the burgeoning middle class that would combine beauty, functionality, and humanity.
The 250 photos and illustrations in this book beautifully trace the gradual disappearance of the unimaginative gothic ornamentation of the Victorian age in the face of a new sense of the "commonplace" – indigenous flora and fauna, local stone, unpolished metals and rough timber – as the embodiment of a higher standard of beauty.
The inspirational leader of the movement, John Ruskin, wrote in 1849 that "All noble ornamentation is the expression of man's delight in God's work." Every aspect of the home – the structure itself, the rugs, drapes, tableware, doorlatches, art on the walls, and landscaping – became elements of gesamkunstwerk, a"total work of art."
Blakesley, a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, tracks the Arts and Crafts movement from its infancy as a purely aesthetic concern to its maturation as a force battling workplace exploitation. As the movement spread throughout Europe, Russia, and finally the United States, each country's artists and craftsmen mined honesty and beauty from its native vernacular, interpreted in multifarious forms. This handsome book transports us to that historic confluence of head, hand, and art.
– John Kehe
Three books about China
China's economy may be growing exponentially, but that doesn't mean that its national psyche is always keeping pace. In China: The Fragile Superpower, former US deputy assistant secretary of State Susan L. Shirk argues that the stronger China grows economically, the more insecure its leaders become. Shirk's depth of knowledge about China – including personal acquaintance with many of its leaders – makes this book a valuable read.
In Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World, journalist Joshua Kurlantzick examines China's reliance on diplomacy, trade incentives, and cultural and educational exchanges as the Asian giant strives to create a new global image of itself.
Napoleon once said, "Let China sleep, for when she awakes she will shake the world." The time of China's awakening is now, warns James Kynge, former bureau chief of the Financial Times in China Shakes the World: A Titan's Breakneck Rise and Troubled Future – and the Challenge for America. Kynge looks at both China's strengths and weaknesses and considers how they will impact the rest of the globe as the country continues to grow at breakneck speed.
– Marjorie Kehe
Very few books make me want to support the ideas in them but Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is the total exception. Mortenson, an American mountain climber, has an ongoing life work of building schools for girls in Pakistan under truly unimaginable conditions. It was so inspiring that when I put down the 330-page paperback I immediately sent a check.
– Jeanie Satterwhite, Bainbridge Island, Wash.
If irreverence offends I wouldn't recommend Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, but if you wonder why it remains on bestseller lists, go for it. Not an easy read, but it makes one think about traditionally held beliefs. As a religious reader who opened it, I failed Dawkins's stated intent. I was not an atheist when I put it down.
– George Krusz, Punta Gorda, Fla.
I am rereading A Word or Two by Christopher Andreae. I am a devotee of Mr. Andreae's gentle work in The Christian Science Monitor. This sparkling sampler of stories and anecdotes is hard to put down. A favorite on my bookshelf. Highly recommended.
– Dr. Karen Fanta Zumbrunn, Princeton, N.J.
I was at Oxford at the same time the judge in the novel The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai was at Cambridge. I identified with the judge's career choices and family issues. But the politics of modern India and the struggles of Indian immigrants in New York were all new to me. The book was a page turner. I couldn't put it down – it competed with our holiday in St. John's.
– Bob Soper, Bronx, N.Y.
The Measure of a Man by Sydney Poitier is deep and reflective. It really is a spiritual autobiography. How fortunate that he has taken time to share!
– Louise Cox, Windsor, CONN.
What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.