Stephen Bayley

Spectator Books of the Year: Stephen Bayley on the enigma of Kenneth Clark

Spectator Books of the Year: Stephen Bayley on the enigma of Kenneth Clark
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I told James Stourton that the world didn’t need to know anything more about Lord Clark of Trivialisation. And I was wrong. His meticulous and elegant book, Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Criticism (Collins, £30) perfectly captures the contradictions of ‘K’, an Olympian snob, but a true democrat who was thrillingly honest and also hard on himself. Britain’s best writer on art since Ruskin now has the biography he deserves.

Before he took his life with his own hand, the Infinite Jest author had used that same hand to play tennis at the US equivalent of county standard. The sport remained an obsession and if tennis is not itself a high art, writing about it this well most certainly is — as David Foster Wallace does in String Theory (Library of America, £15).

My manic eccentricity award goes to Graham Robb, whose books on French culture have been justly popular. Now, in Cols and Passes of the British Isles (Particular Books, £20), the easygoing Robb has researched and catalogued Britain’s 2,002 cols, many of them hitherto unnoticed (including one in south London): a delicious and hypnotically fascinating masterpiece of squinty-eyed fanaticism.

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