Books by John Berger

John Berger was born in London in 1926. His many books, innovative in form and far-reaching in their historical and political insight, include the Booker Prize-winning novel G, To the Wedding and King. Amongst his outstanding studies of art and photograph

LANDSCAPES by John Berger
Released: Nov. 8, 2016

"Although Landscapes requires some observational flexibility to experience with a feeling of cohesion, these worldly essays are timeless, inspiring works of critical observation."
Landscapes in the loosest, most metaphorical sense of the term, this illuminating compilation of essays by Berger (Portraits, 2015, etc.) aims to situate a range of art criticism into an accessible realm. Read full book review >
PORTRAITS by John Berger
Released: Oct. 27, 2015

"Although some of the more mannered pieces don't work as well as others, it's always Berger's unique, captivating mind on display in these unabashedly personal essays—and that never disappoints."
A Berger sampler: the esteemed art critic offers up personal portraits of a wide array of well-known and lesser-known artists and art works. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 8, 2011

"Berger's readers will see with fresh eyes."
A deceptively brief volume offers profound meditations on art, the creative process and so much more. Read full book review >
FROM A TO X by John Berger
Released: Sept. 25, 2008

"Berger's writing comes off as equal parts somber and exalted."
A novel comprised of a series of letters allegedly "recuperated" by Berger (Hold Everything Dear, 2007, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 11, 2007

"Why is the publication date timed for the sixth anniversary of 9/11? For the maximization of profits, of course."
Slender, slight collection of aphoristic essays by British art critic, novelist and political activist Berger (Here is Where We Meet, 2006, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 9, 2005

"Berger also treats us to reflections on Borges (buried in Geneva), Rembrandt's Polish Rider, the Cro-Magnon and nights of innocent, unconsummated passion with a fellow art student as the bombs fell over wartime London. His endless curiosity restores the spirits."
Discrete scenes from a mellow, largely autobiographical journey through time and space. Read full book review >
THE YEAR IS ’42 by Nella Bielski
Released: Dec. 1, 2004

"Bielski's tone lends grace to her project, but, sans supporting detail, it seems an affectation that leaves the whole feeling rather pointless."
The currents of WWII alter the lives of a German officer and a Russian doctor, in a poignant but thin tale by Ukrainian author Bielski. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 28, 2001

"Both insightful and obscure."
One-time Booker Prize-winner Berger (King, 1999, etc.) here pursues his other love: art and art criticism. Read full book review >
KING by John Berger
Released: May 1, 1999

As usual from Berger (Isabelle, 1998, etc.), a deceptively simple tale—here, about a day in the life of a homeless couple and their German Shepard, on whom they rely—turns into a thing of eloquence and beauty, with tragedy and humanity evident in equal measure. King is the dog; he tells the story of his people, Vica and Vico, and the semblance of normality the three of them have brought to a homeless existence. Having joined a community of homeless in a trash-strewn wasteland, which they call Saint ValÇry, at the edge of a city and on the verge of a bustling motorway, like the others Vica and Vico constructed with painstaking care a home out of the refuse, a home that like the others reflects something essential of their personalities. From there they make their daily foray into town, to sit on the sidewalk and hawk the radishes they have grown to sell. Vica also makes a foray for water, taking it from a gas-station bathroom and trying to outwit the owner who would deny it to her. And in quiet moments they all dream, of who they were and who they might become again. King is a full partner in the adventures as well as in the dreams: he understands their thoughts, and they understand his. He is also the companion and watchdog of the community, from Jack the Baron, its leader and guardian, to Danny the jokester and the elderly Corinna. When darkness falls on this day, however, Saint ValÇry is facing obliteration, as soldiers and equipment move in to reclaim the site for development. King does what he can to aid those who resist, including Vico, who takes a knife to the officer in charge, but in the end resistance is futile and they are all truly homeless once more. Spare and dreamlike, yet for all its delicacy harshly real: a story that opens a window on a world easily ignored, and makes its case long after the last page is turned. Read full book review >
ISABELLE by John Berger
Released: May 28, 1998

Subtitled A Story in Shots, this trim "novel" is in fact a screenplay whose scenes describe the brief, impassioned life of 19th-century traveler and adventuress Isabelle Eberhardt. Its three "Acts" dramatize Isabelle's rebellion against her emotional (Russian) family, escape to Marseilles and North Africa, then sojourns in the Sahara, marriage to an Algerian military officer, and early death. This quirky volume, which is sparsely but handsomely illustrated with its subject's own line drawings, is flawed by occasional Middle Eastern mystical fatuousness, but nevertheless offers a crisp, intriguing portrait of an extraordinarily enigmatic and interesting woman. Read full book review >
PHOTOCOPIES by John Berger
Released: Sept. 16, 1996

Featherlight touches and resonant phrasing have been Berger's stock in trade through his extensive career as novelist and critic (To the Wedding, 1995, etc.). This collection of short fictions (many, apparently, drawing heavily on the particulars of Berger's long life) is no exception, though these vignettes are colored with a pervasive melancholy that works as often to their detriment as to their advantage. "Sometimes it seems that, like an ancient Greek, I write mostly about the dead and earth." This sentiment, which begins "A Friend Talking," a short, poignant piece on the death of an artist in Paris, typifies the air of bittersweet remembrance cloaking the book as a whole. Another friend, a survivor of the Gulag living outside of Paris in a Le Corbusier house, is being forced in old age to leave the home where his mother waited for 14 years for him to return from Siberia ("A House Designed by Le Corbusier"). A visit with photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson triggers a wide-ranging conversation on art and images ("A Man Begging in the M‚tro"), while a visit in high summer to an artist living in Galicia ("Sheets of Paper Laid on the Grass") involves looking at her primordial mollusc-inspired drawings, which invoke the work of Paul Klee. Other visits range from a trip to the Italian hills to see the crumbling ancestral home outside of which a friend's mother has recently planted a single jasmine, to yet more visits with painters, usually friends of long acquaintance. The cumulative effect of these special events, both sad and satisfying, is a gentle yet persistent distancing, a refinement of memory's moments into acts of archetypal sharing. With so clear a focus on death and detachment, it's hard not to see this collection as a sort of letting go—though not, one hopes, a cap on the career of so keen an observer and grandly gifted a writer. Read full book review >
TO THE WEDDING by John Berger
Released: May 1, 1995

British art critic and novelist Berger's (Corker's Freedom, 1993, etc.) poetic sensibilities, already acute, are heightened here magnificently in a wrenching tale of young lovers whose future is poisoned by AIDS but who nevertheless seize the present, making their wedding a fulfilling, time-transcendent event. Legitimizing the story's many temporal shifts is a blind Greek peddler who hears many voices across the years, an aural Tiresias, after selling a charm to the bride's father in an Athens market. Jean is a French railworker of Italian ancestry, who met the Czech Zdena when she fled the Soviet crackdown in her homeland after the Prague Spring of '68. Love and their daughter Ninon kept them together, but after eight years in exile, Zdena's yearning took her back to Prague alone, and there she stayed. Ninon grew to be strong-willed, beautiful, and thirsty for new experiences. In an Egyptian exhibition in Verona, she meets Gino, self-assured son of a Lombardy scrap-dealer making his living as a traveling salesman, but she severs their relationship when she learns a previous lover has left her HIV-positive. Gino persists in his attentions, even after hearing Ninon's secret, and persuades her to marry him; with the wedding to take place in a town south of Venice where the broad Po river meets the sea, her parents make their separate, soul-searching treks to be there. The wedding scene itself — a fluid, life-affirming mix of feast, fest, romance, and family unity — also contains the images of dying that will be Ninon and Gino's inevitable future. It is a haunting climax, flawlessly formed. While the tragedy of AIDS has spawned many poignant works in the last decade, few have achieved the level of emotional, psychological, and physical harmony found here. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 10, 1993

How do we process experience? Must our public selves imprison our true identities? Is individual destiny meaningful in a world of chance? These are some of the questions explored by the British Berger (author of the Into Their Labours trilogy, etc.) in his quirky 1963 novel, now getting its first US publication. William Corker is the elderly owner of a Clapham, South London, employment agency, which he runs with his clerk, 17-year- old Alec Gooch. Save for a coda, the action is confined to one day in April 1960 when Corker and Alec are at turning-points in their lives. Corker has just moved out of his invalid sister Irene's house; Alec has had his first sexual experience with his beloved girlfriend Jackie. The thoughts of employer and employee are commingled with visits by job applicants. Alec's mental world is defined by the office and his relationship with Jackie, which has filled him with confidence in his body and his future; as the day goes by, Alec perceives his boss differently—as helpless and fallible. Corker's case is more complex. His flight from his intimidating sister, and the recovery of a long-lost sense of destiny, have made him impatient with his own persona. That evening, during his lecture/slide-show in a nearby church-hall on his favorite city of Vienna, his impatience causes him to supplement his lecture-notes with a highly personal prescription for happiness. It is a moment of liberation for Corker. His subsequent discovery that his office has been burgled clips his wings, but the Corker we glimpse two years later—a seedy, mildly dishonest soapbox speaker—seems at peace with himself. Neither Alec nor Corker (whose love life is curiously omitted) seems interesting enough to be subjects of a Joycean illumination. An intermittently perceptive novel, then, that lacks the economy of Berger's later fiction. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

Berger (The Sense of Sight, 1985, etc.) as art critic is a maddening case. Most of the time his once-fashionable leftism falls like a caul over the paintings and photographs that he uses, literally, as pretexts for these short essays (most reprinted from The Village Voice, Harper's, etc.). Ideology and preconception will force up a fatuity like "How then does the cinema overcome this limitation to attain its special power? It does so by celebrating what we have in common, what we share. The cinema longs to go beyond individuality"; or one such as the recommendation of love's "cyclical time" that opposes corporate capitalism's "unilinear" view of it; or a celebration of peasant "interiority." Berger may write of the abattoir and excrement here, but he is a Romantic at heart: Walter Benjamin with a rucksack. The best art critics make you want to see more; Berger wants you to feel more—and his wanting before images sometimes distorts or even obscures them. On the other hand, he can on occasion bring his eyes to bear on certain painters and sculptors with private intimacy and intuition. About Pollock, Henry Moore's sculptures ("Their notorious hollows and holes are sites of a sensation of enclosure, cradling, nuzzling. Before Moore's art, as before nobody else's, we are reminded that we are mammals"), and Renoir, Berger is unusually stellar. A too-mixed bag, unbalanced mostly by political deadweight. Read full book review >
ONCE IN EUROPE by John Berger
Released: Feb. 15, 1987

This second volume in Berger's projected trilogy on French peasant life (the first, Pig Earth, was published in 1980) comprises four short stories dealing with love, loss, solitude and survival. Three of these stories show us the farmers and shepherds of the French Alps, their lives molded by the land they work. "The Accordion Player" is a vignette of the middle-aged Felix, racked by a sense of loss after his mother's death—his mother, who was also his co-worker. While Felix had his mother's love, Boris (in "Boris is Buying Horses") has nothing except his ambition until his infatuation with a married blonde. "On this inhospitable earth he had found, at the age of forty-one, a shelter." But the blonde has her own program, and Boris dies destitute. Marius (in "Time of the Cosmonauts") is not much luckier. The old farmer intrigues the fiercely independent Danielle, 50 years his junior; but his need is so great that he scares her away. . .into marriage to a young woodcutter. Finally, in the longer title story, the farm is a puny thing in the shadow of a huge ferro-manganese factory. The protagonist Odile, as self-assured as Danielle, moves onto company property when she is 17 to cohabit with her Russian lover, who is killed in an industrial accident before he can make good on his promise to marry her. Though Odile's loss is the most terrible, she transcends it in a way denied to the men: she gives birth to their child. At the close, hang gliding with her now grown son, her transcendence has become literal. These peasants' search for shelter is marked by haunting images of their need: Felix weeping at the kitchen table, Marius howling a proclamation of his manhood to the mountains. What gives the stories their additional quality of surprise is Berger's generous humanist vision, which allows for the possibility of transcendence, and even of miracles. His trilogy moves serenely forward. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 20, 1985

Someone, at some time, must have told Berger he was sensitive. Now in this latest collection of the British critic/novelist's essays, poems, tales and reminiscences, readers are being forced to pay the price for that misdirected compliment. No subject, it seems, from peasants' eating habits to the rumpled sheet in a Frans Hals painting is safe from Berger's "sensitivity." He is like the unwanted dinner partner, secure in the murky subtleties of his own perceptions, while we try to catch the host's eye in a desperate plea for relief. The "host" in this case is Spencer, but expect no relief from him; he finds Berger's "concentration. . .a kind of instantaneous instruction." Never has "instantaneous instruction" (whatever it may be) been so muddled, so inconsequential, so long-winded. After 10 years as art critic of the New Statesman, Berger left England in the 1960's and settled in a small French Alpine village. Many of the pieces here concern their lives and Berger's tortured analyses of their thoughts and emotions. All his perceptions have a strongly Marxist slant and rely on fairly formulaic leftist principles. In this area, Berger also recounts meetings with a number of his socialist confreres, most from Eastern Europe, most little known. In between, the reader is treated to a few poems, a dissertation on Berger's reactions to his father's death, a critique of the works of Garcia Marquez, among other topics. All are needlessly opaque. The miasma clears somewhat when Berger turns his attention to the world of art. His essay on the sadness inherent in Monet's Impressionism and his speculations on Goya's reasons for painting the nude Maja are of passing interest. Too, his treatment of Cubism, its origins and objectives, one of the longer pieces in the book, is coherent and sometimes even perceptive. The occasional pleasures to be found in The Sense of Sight cannot, however, outweigh the tedium and air of self-congratulation to be found on almost every page. Read full book review >
Released: April 30, 1984

Modest, uncontentious reflections on things personal and epochal—time and timelessness, love, home—by the noted Marxist critic of art and society. Berger's first series of vignettes and poems is entitled "Once" (as "Once in a Story," "Once in a Painting"). The thoughts are not remarkable—the duality of body and consciousness, the primacy of words over communication in poetry. But there is also a political dimension: "No social value any longer underwrites the time of consciousness"; "every modern society is aware of its own ephemerality." From the past and the future comes the capacity to name the intolerable: "That is why politics and courage are inevitable." ("The time of the torturer is agonizingly but exclusively of the present.") The second section, "Here," has mainly to do with emigration and displacement. "Home was the center of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. . . The choices open to men and women today—even amongst many of the underprivileged—may be more numerous than in the past, but what has been lost irretrievably is the choice of saying: this is the center of the world." Still, they improvise a shelter—of habit and love. Explorations of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Caravaggio overlap with self-inscription. Near-homilies—less stimulating, or irritating, than usual. Read full book review >
PIG EARTH by John Berger
Released: Sept. 1, 1980

In the darkness, which precedes sight or place or name, man and calf waited." The man is waiting for the calf, the calf is waiting to be born, and the reader waits throughout these short tales and poems of peasant life for the promised sociological insight. Pig Earth is the first of three projected volumes on the transition from the peasant way of life to the metropolis, and Berger (G, A Seventh Man) somehow sees these tales as parables to which he adds a broad but cursory historical afterword. Yet style and story are too lean to support the socio-historical baggage, and so ultimately we are left with stories—most of them with a Marxist tendency to glorify the noble peasant—of cows being butchered and goats mated, of mysteriously-knowing dwarf girls and grandfathers. A man's refusal to accept mechanization of the farm is defended by his insistence that "Working is a way of preserving the knowledge my sons are losing. . . . Without that knowledge, I am nothing"; a country gift is mocked in Paris by other, more sophisticated, servants: "The cook told her to go back to her goat shit. It was the first time Catherine heard the word peasant used as an insult." In a poem titled "Potatoes" even this dowdy peasant staple gains a certain nobility: "During the snow/ heaped in cellars/they gravely offer/ body to the soup." Though Berger disavows any attempt to romanticize ("As soon as one accepts that peasants are a class of survivors. . . any idealization of their way of life becomes impossible"), we find here only the sketchiest view of peasant life. Better look to the historians (Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou; Eric Hobsbawm & George Rude, Captain Swing; Eric Wolf, Peasants) for the sum and substance of peasant life, and its role in major historical developments. Peas and porridge, but no pie. Read full book review >
ABOUT LOOKING by John Berger
Released: April 25, 1980

Britain's John Berger has got to be the widest-ranging Marxist art critic around; and in these 23 assorted essays, 1966-79, he almost apotheosizes into a butterfly. He'll poke around at anything anywhere that might ratify his rather wistful dream of truly socio-historical art. "Why We Look at Animals," the longish lead piece, throws together every quote Berger seems to have been able to find in order to build a finally less-than-stirring argument: that the modern zoo is the culmination of the "marginalization" capitalism imposes even on beasts. His trendy essays on photography, which comprise the second section, try to out-Sontag Sontag (whose thoughts he credits with prompting some of his); but they are thin, wishy, or even obviously silly. (An August Sander photo of suited peasants on their way to a dance supposedly illustrates the succumbing of a perfectly good working-class sartorial fashion to the "class hegemony" of suits). The third section focuses variously on painting and painters. And here Berger writes that primitives, Grandma Moses included, do not "emigrate" to the standards of the ruling class as "professionals" do because their "whole experience is one of being excluded from the exercise of power. . . ." But he also maintains that Ralph Fasanella, the New York naive painter, denies perspective as a protest against the city's dehumanization (Berger is all over the place in this one). Yet on other topics—the Dutch de Stiff group, Turner, Courbet ("lawless visibility"—brilliant phrase)—Berger is adventurous and expanding. A messier, more Procrustean critic would be hard to find, farfetched as often as he is just; yet Berger always holds your interest—which, considering the present state of art criticism, is no mean accomplishment. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 7, 1975

There are eleven million of them more or less—no one knows exactly. Many are untallied, unofficial nonpersons—who come from Yugoslavia, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, and Sicily to work in asbestos and plastics, in the construction trades and on the assembly lines of Western Europe. Eleven million migrant workers, most living in barracks, out of suitcases, doing the most menial, degrading, dangerous jobs. Berger, a Marxist art critic and novelist (The Look of Things, 1974; G, 1972), has once more collaborated with photographer Jean Mohr—they joined forces on the story of a country doctor, A Fortunate Man—to produce this lament for Europe's sub-proletarian, displaced worker. He is not a man; he is a function. He has no rights, claims or reality outside of his job. He is the surplus human raw material of the postwar industrial miracle. The countryside he left, depleted of its young men, will become even more stagnant. In the metropolis to which he goes he will be the last hired and the first fired when his muscle becomes redundant. As a sexual or political being he does not exist; when he becomes old or sick he will be as useless as refuse. Expendable. Berger's words and Mohr's pictures merge into an eloquent photo essay—think of Wisconsin Death Trip a couple of years ago. Berger manages to portray the demeaning emptiness of the migrant's days without ever becoming shrill or didactic. He seeks the quality of a life of enforced anonymity; the life of the man called a Zigeuner (gypsy), Lumpenpack (rag-pack), Kameltreiber (camel-rider) or Schlangenfresser (snake-eater). In images and words, a collective portrait on the theme of unfreedom. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1974

Berger is a Marxist critic who so far eludes sectarian expectations that his writing seems closer in temper to the tradition of Ruskin and Pater — that is to say, a tradition of fine writing suffused with self and appreciation. These essays — on artists, genres, specific cases in many spheres of culture and the arts — appear to have been produced over a fairly long period. One supposes anyway that his discussion, say, of Leger as epic-painter-of-means-of-production, would have preceded an extremely percipient piece on Walter Benjamin, a neglected, profoundly original writer whose ways of conceiving of art in history seem to have influenced Berger's own. Like Benjamin, Berger is never mechanically socio-historical; rather he focuses on the dimension of consciousness that is represented by style — style as a fundamental, certainly legitimate element of communication, as in a brief, brilliant analysis of the Marxian rhetoric of the Eighteenth Brumaire; style as a personal achievement (as in a series of testaments to lives outside the capitalist fold) which alters qualitatively with acceptance and absorption into the cultural trust; stylistic possibility as a measure of general imaginative Lebensraum. Media and genres are treated correspondingly, e.g., the different contingencies of portraiture and photographs. Berger's own mobile, epigrammatically precise style is a proper vehicle for these forays beyond interpretation, though sometimes too it tempts him to make more than necessary of local errands ("At the Zoo"). Whether you see that as a failing depends on your point of view. Diversely rewarding. Read full book review >
G. by John Berger
Released: Sept. 8, 1972

G. as anonymously archetypal as the use of the initial suggests, is the novel or rather anti-novel of the prominent British art critic and Marxist humanist. Berger is a man of bold and profligate talents and the work which is equally diverse (philosophical, social, moral) is capable of many readings. Superficially — a dangerous trap indeed — it is an almost contemporary retelling of the Don Juan myth. The book doses on the eve of World War I. G. is the illegitimate son of a gross merchant of Livorno and a fragile and uncertain Englishwoman whom he cannot marry. She takes the child back to England where before long he is abandoned to the care of others and after early episodes of sexual initiation (a governess, a tutor, his surrogate mother) becomes (in retaliation or because he has no other roots?) a womanizer. In his pursuit of the wife of a Parisian car manufacturer, the didactic eroticism leads to far broader-ranging speculation on the inseparability of romantic love and sexuality — on the act of submission which is again the bestowal of freedom and on sex as an equivalent of death — that familiar little death which is so "absurdly short-lived." Death encroaches more and more as the novel reaches its final inset in Trieste where G. becomes the circumstantial whim of the events taking place all around him; ahistorical, apolitical, he is used and betrayed by just those historical and political forces and only in dying perhaps achieves the answer to the lack of identity imposed on him since the beginning. Paradox abounds throughout the novel which Berger annotates with epigrammatic asides ("The writer's desire to finish is fatal to the truth") or evasive ones ("Yet we know there is a mystery. . . . I am writing this book in the same dark"). As for the rest, his style is aggressively visual and animated by its inexorable present tense. Ultimately (and ignoring the common reader whom it will defeat) it is an arresting, inordinately vital, impersonal, and remarkable work. Read full book review >
A FORTUNATE MAN by John Berger
Released: June 22, 1967

The subtitle "The Story of a Country Doctor" is somewhat misleading: portrait would perhaps be a better word, particularly with the sixty photographs by Mr. Mohr which catch a mood—a moment. So does the text, proceeding from the immediate (British Dr. Sassall's surgery, his calls, in a culturally disadvantaged rural area) to tangential speculations on the role and the image of the doctor, on death "the condition of life," on suffering and its regressive relationship to time, etc. The fortunate man "pursuing what he wishes to pursue," in Dr. Sassall's case his own ideal of responsibility, is submitted to a rather subjective work-up by his biographer along with some of the subtler abstractions of his calling....A special book, with special sponsorship of the publisher. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1962

Londoner John Berger is the art critic of the New Statemans and The Observer; he's also a Marxist, as anyone reading "Toward Reality" will not fail to notice. Though Berger in too sophisticated to spout the old social-realism sewage Moscow journals float in, being a well-fed "revolutionary" of the West, his own doodling of the dialectic in apparent everywhere. Constructivist Gabo has a sense of historical destiny"; "epic painter of peace" Then Holt, is "herald of the new society"; Courbet is full of "uninhibital fraternity"; Goya's "protests are relevant in an age of Buchenwald and Hiroshima" Leger celebrates "richer industrialization" and the "profound humanism of his o his materialist philosophy"; Plateau in "communal". And so it goes. Dubuffet, Klee and Action Painters are out, the Venice Biennial honoring "the image of muck" accompanies "the death throes of imperialism", Pollock is "meaningless", bourgeols culture "wastes itself" in "crises of decaying capitalism" and one can judge art only "by the criterion of whether or not it helps.... the world wide struggle for equality". Doctrinaire assessments of this sort are currently part of England's New Left movement; needless to say they are considered extremely chief. Berger rides the "wave of the future" with seriousness and sensitivity; to many of his persuasion he undoubtedly seems a prophet. To anyone else, a rather genteel and gullible propagandist. Read full book review >