Alan Balfour

Academic; Writer / Architecture / United States / Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Architecture

Scholarship and Imagination: Alan Balfour’s Book List

This list is made up of three parts: first, books that have touched me in the last year or so, most related to supporting and stimulating my own writing; second, writers whose imaginations I can enter, whose books I can get lost within; and third, books that I often return to and continue to value.

10 books
Giorgio Ciucci
Francesco Dal Co
Manfredo Tafuri et al.

Essays on the ideologies driving the formation of the new American city. These European perspectives from the late 1970s and early ‘80s offer much that is new and surprising.

Karen Armstrong

Armstrong has produced highly readable, extraordinary scholarship on religion and culture in many books over 30 years. Pick any one.

William T. Vollmann

This book documents the destruction of a vast landscape, violent and confrontational, presenting a tragic and deeply American tale.

Simon Schama

This is a glorious interweaving of scholarship and imagination. Equally good are Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, and and Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.

Henry Mayhew
Edited by Peter Quennell

Nothing in Dickens comes even close to describing the underbelly of 19th-century London.

W. G. Sebald

I enjoy all of Sebald’s writing. The Rings of Saturn remains my favorite, but his essay collections are also powerful, for example, On the Natural History of Destruction. Sebald writes about memory and the loss of memory (both personal and collective) and the decay of civilizations, traditions, or physical objects—buildings and beliefs.

Nick Papadimitriou

A highly subjective exploration of a lost world at the edge of London.

Colin Thubron

As with Sebald, I relish all of Thubron’s writings. They are travel books, but erudite and carefully stage-managed, they become a journey into the human condition and the realities that result. Thubron is part of a great tradition of British travel writing that includes Patrick Leigh Fermor and Freya Stark, whom I recommend only because they describe worlds and values so distant from ours.

Alexander John Brown Youngson

A beautiful book whose design is matched by brilliant scholarship. Reading it makes one in awe of a society in which, for a short period, wealth was pooled to create a unified reality.

Margaret Artwood

Outrageous invention—raw, bizarre, yet prophetic.

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