Why are we so fascinated by ruins? Do we see them as jigsaws and riddles or romantic evocations of the hand of Time and Nature, poems in crumbling stone and clinging ivy? Do they call up past glories or warn against future arrogance?
The brilliant young art historian Christopher Woodward takes us on a thousand year journey with artists and writers who have delighted in ruins. We travel from the plains of Troy to the monuments of ancient Rome, from the crumbling palaces of Sicily, Cuba and Zanzibar to the rubble of the London Blitz. We meet the teenage Byron in the mouldering Newstead Abbey, Flaubert watching buzzards on the pyramids, Henry James in the Colosseum and Freud at Pompeii. Even the decay of an ordinary house can be as moving as the collapse of a temple.
But has the artist's joy in ruins - found at its most charming in the follies of eighteenth-century landscape gardens - been banished by the forensic archaeologists of today? This elegant, provocative book argues for the values of solitude, mystery and picturesque decay - seeing a ruin not as a pile of stones, but a living expression of human imagination. With its colourful characters and stories and its telling illustrations, 'In Ruins' is full of strange delights, exploring the melancholy charm of eternal fragments.