God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

Witnessed by vast crowds, the Houses of Parliament burned to the ground in London in 1834. Coming shortly after the passage of Catholic emancipation and the Great Reform Bill, the fire seemed to symbolize the passing of England?s old order. Yet the government looked back as it planned a new seat, calling for designs in ?Gothic or Elizabethan style.? The commission turned Gothic Revival from a dilettantish taste into the Victorian age?s major style -- the neoclassical had associations of revolution and republicanism. This strange turn of events is best understood through the short, eccentric life of Augustus Welby Pugin (1812–52). Son of an émigré French draughtsman, Pugin designed his first church at 9 and received his first royal commission at 16. Converted to Catholicism in his 20s, he found an idealized aesthetic world in medieval Christianity. He also found a lot of work, designing in short order 2 cathedrals, 3 convents, 2 monasteries, 18 churches, and a clutch of houses and schools. He talked major manufacturers into reviving medieval techniques for tiles, ironwork, carpentry, and textiles. He was a ?50 horsepower of creation,? in the words of Charles Barry, who won the commission for the new Houses of Parliament thanks to Pugin?s drawings. The long frenzy of work, and a case of syphilis, drove Pugin mad shortly after he finished the designs for Big Ben. Pugin was nearly forgotten for a century, and Rosemary Hill?s new book completes the long job of restoring his reputation. I can?t imagine a more successful biography of an architect or a more enjoyable appraisal of the aesthetics and theology of the early Victorian era.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.