Norwich, John Julius 1929-
Norwich, John Julius 1929-
(John Julius Cooper Norwich, John Julius Norwich, Lord, John Julius Norwich, Viscount)
PERSONAL: Born September 15, 1929, in London, England; son of Alfred Duff Cooper (a historian and statesman; first Viscount Norwich) and Lady Diana (Manners) Cooper; married Anne Frances May Clifford (a painter), August 5, 1952 (marriage dissolved, 1983); married Mary Philipps, 1989; children: (first marriage) Artemis Cooper, Jason Cooper. Education: Attended Upper Canada College, Toronto; Eton; University of Strasbourg; and New College, Oxford. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, music (especially opera).
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—Felicity Bryan, 2a N. Parade Ave., Oxford OX2 6LS, England.
CAREER: Writer and editor. Her Majesty's Foreign Service, 1952–64, served as third secretary at British Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1955–57, as second secretary at British Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, 1957–60, and as first secretary in Foreign Office, London, England, 1961–64; member of British delegation to Disarmament Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 1962–63. Lecturer on conservation, travel, history, and the fine arts; chair of British Theatre Museum, 1966–71, Serenissima Travel, London, 1972–87, and Venice in Peril Fund; member of executive committee, National Trust, 1969–95. Host of some thirty television documentaries; host of radio program My Word! for British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) Radio. Military service: Royal Navy, writer, 1947–49.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow), Royal Geographical Society (fellow), Society of Antiquaries, Beefsteak Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, 1993.
(With Reresby Sitwell) Mount Athos, illustrated with photographs by the authors and A. Costa, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.
Sahara, illustrated with photographs by the author and A. Costa, Weybright & Talley (New York, NY), 1968.
The Kingdom in the Sun, 1130–1194 (sequel to The Other Conquest), Harper (New York, NY), 1970.
(Editor) Great Architecture of the World, foreword by N. Pevsner, Random House (New York, NY), 1975, reprinted, Da Capo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Venice: The Rise to Empire, Allen Lane (London, England), 1977.
(Compiler) Christmas Crackers: Ten Commonplace Selections, 1970–1979, Allen Lane (London, England), 1980.
Venice: The Greatness and the Fall, Allen Lane (London, England), 1981.
A History of Venice, Volume 1: The Rise to Empire, Volume 2: The Greatness and the Fall, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.
(Editor) The Italian World: History, Art, and the Genius of a People, Abrams (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted as The Italians: History, Art, and the Genius of a People, Portland House (New York, NY), 1989.
The Burrell Collection, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor) Britain's Heritage, Granada (New York, NY), 1983.
(Author of historical profile) Suomi La Valle, Hashish, Quartet Books (New York, NY), 1984.
The Architecture of Southern England, photographs by Jorge Lewinski and Mayotte Magnus, Macmillan (London, England), 1985.
Fifty Years of Glyndebourne: An Illustrated History, J. Cape (London, England), 1985.
(Editor and compiler) A Taste for Travel: An Anthology, Macmillan (London, England), 1985, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Byzantium, Volume 1: The Early Centuries, Viking (London, England), 1988, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989, Volume 2: The Apogee, Viking (New York, NY), 1991, Volume 3: The Decline and Fall, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Charlie Waite) Charlie Waite's Italian Landscapes, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1990.
(Compiler) More Christmas Crackers: Ten Commonplace Selections, 1980–1989, Penguin (London, England), 1990.
Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Arts, Volume 5, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(With H.C. Robbins Landon) Five Centuries of Music in Venice, Schirmer (New York, NY), 1991.
Sovereign II: A Celebration of Forty Years of Service, Collins & Brown (London, England), 1992.
(Editor) Liudprand of Cremona, The Embassy to Constantinople and Other Writings, J.M. Dent (London, England), 1993.
(With Dorothea Ritter) Venice in Old Photographs: 1870–1920, Bulfinch (Boston, MA), 1994.
A Short History of Byzantium (condensed version of Byzantium, Volumes 1-3), Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
Love in the Ancient World, photographs by Christopher Miles, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
The Twelve Days of Christmas (correspondence), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337–1485, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.
(Compiler) Still More Christmas Crackers: Being Ten Commonplace Selections, 1990–1999, Viking (London, England), 2000.
The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books (London, England), 2000.
(Editor) A Traveller's Companion to Venice, Interlink Publishing (Northampton, MA), 2002.
(Editor) Treasures of Britain: The Architectural, Cultural, Historical and Natural History of Britain, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
The Illustrated Christmas Cracker, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Trafalgar Square (North Pomfret, VT), 2003.
Paradise of Cities: Venice in the 19th Century, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor) The Duff Cooper Diaries, 1915–1951, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2005.
The Middle Sea, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2006.
Author of introductions to books, including The World Atlas of Architecture, 1984, Tuscany: An Anthology, 1984, Milton Grundy's Venice, 2000, and Cathy Giangrande's Saint Petersburg: Museums, Palaces and Historic Collections, 2003. Author of historical documentary films for BBC television. General editor, Shell Guides to Britain, 1987–. Contributor to the Sunday Times, Spectator, History Today, and other publications.
SIDELIGHTS: John Julius Norwich is a veteran of the British diplomatic service with a strong interest in the unusual. Norwich has produced books that range from descriptions of exotic places and architecture, to anthologies of travelers' tales and historical oddities, to histories of the Normans in Italy, the Venetian Republic, and the Byzantine Empire.
Representative of Norwich's travel literature is A Taste for Travel: An Anthology. J.Y. Smith, writing in the Washington Post Book World, reported: "This is an anthology of pieces about traveling when getting there was half the fun of it and there was more to having an adventure along the way than losing your luggage or missing a connection." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor William Murray stated that "Norwich's purpose is to share with us the excitement and drama the simple act of going abroad can still arouse … 'the endless fascination of the unknown,' as he puts it." Norwich's own journeys have taken him to locations over the world, including Mount Athos in Greece and the Sahara Desert.
Another series of excursions led Norwich to write The Architecture of Southern England. The book sets out to present the most remarkable buildings in the south of England, but some reviewers found it notable for what it left out as well as for what is included. Victorian and twentieth-century architecture are almost completely omitted, with almost all the buildings included being constructed before the Victorian era.
Norwich's fascination with the unique and outlandish is displayed in his anthology of miscellany called Christmas Crackers: Ten Commonplace Selections, 1970–1979. While he was in the Foreign Service, Norwich began keeping a log of phrases that appealed to him, and from this collection he chose the contents of Christmas Crackers. These included quotations and a couple of dictionary definitions: the Italian word buffona, meaning "a woman with a not unpleasing mustache," and carphology, which is defined as "delirious fumbling with the bed-clothes, etc." Other Norwich favorites in the collection include all sorts of palindromes (phrases which read the same backward or forward), evocative lines of poetry, mnemonics, and various entreating notes his late mother left on her windshield to avoid being ticketed for illegal parking. "His range knows no bounds," commented William Haley in the Times Literary Supplement. "A chance remark, a letter from a friend, an opera programme, an advertisement, the instruction book for the new washing machine … can reveal the unexpected nugget of pure gold."
More famous than Norwich's anthologies, however, are his popular histories. The Other Conquest and The Kingdom in the Sun, 1130–1194, two of his early books, trace the events that led to the establishment of the Norman kingdom of Sicily. While lacking in original scholarship, according to Saturday Review contributor Gabriel Gersh, Norwich's work is valuable for its "triumph" in "evoking this fascinating island. His descriptions are well wrought and give his work an added dimension. The total result is an excellent assessment."
Norwich further examines Mediterranean history in his two-volume work, A History of Venice. This book traces the long story of the Venetian Republic from its foundation as a refuge from barbarian invaders in the fifth century, through its period of empire and dominion over much of northern Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and the Levant, to its conquest by Napoleon in 1805. Reviewers praised Norwich's depiction of the Republic, commenting especially on his writing style and historical acumen. Edward Condren, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, noted: "John Julius Norwich has written a handsome history of Venice that precisely captures the essence of that endlessly fascinating republic." Washington Post Book World contributor Lauro Martines commented: "There is much here to appeal to the [general reader]. The book has zest, vigor, and an unflinching narrative line. Travelers, laymen, local librarians, and all who enjoy the exploits and panache of old regimes are certain to find satisfaction in it."
Although many reviewers have enjoyed Norwich's historical writings, Norwich has stated that he considers himself a popularizer rather than a scholar. In a review for the New Republic, Gilbert concluded: "The principal defect of this story of Venice lies not in what is told or in how it is told, but in what the book fails to tell us." Martines noted that A History of Venice "offers no analysis of problems and does not rely on the fullness of modern scholarship, with the result that it is wrong about the 14th-century population, wrong about guilds, about the even-handed administration of justice, about the equitable distribution of taxes, about entry into the special class of 'citizens,' and about other matters of little interest to the general reader." On the other hand, Martines pointed out that the book has value as a document that exudes the author's deep feeling for the city.
Norwich tackled an even bigger subject with his three-volume history of the Byzantine empire: Byzantium: The Early Centuries, Byzantium: The Apogee, and Byzantium: The Decline and Fall. Like the author's other histories, these books contain little original scholarship but instead present known facts about the Eastern Roman Empire in a highly readable style. Reviewing the first volume, Michael Angold stated in the Times Literary Supplement that it has "the virtues of good narrative history: a story well told, a sense of place and personality, and appreciation of the art and architecture" of the Byzantine culture.
Norwich's second volume in the Byzantium set, The Apogee, begins in the year 800 A.D., when Charlemagne was crowned emperor in Rome. That corona-tion transformed what had been the Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, which maintained its power until the end of the eleventh century. When the Byzantine armies suffered critical defeats at the hands of the Turks, the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity split apart. Since that time, Western historians have frequently shown a bias against the Byzantine Empire, describing its rulers and inhabitants as excessively cruel and devious. Norwich has stated that part of his intent in writing his history was to rescue the reputation of the Byzantines, but many reviewers judged him to be only partially successful.
Nevertheless, The Apogee was praised by many reviewers as an exciting account which describes the rulers of the once-great empire. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Robert Irwin called it a "fluent and racy account" that "reads like a novel," with similarities to books such as I, Claudius and The Godfather. Jaroslav Pelikan noted in the New York Times Book Review that "Norwich is always on the lookout for the small but revealing details, such as personal idiosyncrasies, pungent expressions and identifying epithets. He also pays attention to the significant anecdote and the bizarre episode. All of this he recounts … with an unerring sense of what the modern Western reader needs to know or to have explained." He concluded that The Early Centuries and The Apogee are "readable and provocative volumes."
The third volume on Byzantium, The Decline and Fall, covers the years from 1081 until the final siege and fall of the empire's capital, Constantinople, during the Fourth Crusade in 1453. It is "full of intrigue, cultural splendor, drama and pathos," reported a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Although the story takes a melancholy turn as the empire dwindles and cruelty becomes more and more prevalent, Norwich maintains a spirited, lively tone that "possesses the concreteness and descriptive richness of a good travelogue," according to Carl L. Bankston III in Commonweal. Anthony Day, writing in the Los Angeles Times, pointed out that the author "is refreshingly not afraid to have strong opinions," and added: "Norwich makes it clear that he is no original historian. He works from published secondary works, not primary sources. He writes little of economy, for he is no economist. Nor does he write of 'trends,' because he is no sociologist. He is instead a teller of tales, and a good one."
In 2000 Norwich published Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337–1485, an exploration of the historical truth of English history compared with the fictionalized versions that appear in William Shakespeare's major works. "From extraordinary times came extraordinary drama—Shakespeare's historical plays—and Norwich's goal is to provide a nonspecialist audience with an assessment of their historical accuracy, most notably regarding the Richard and Henry plays," summarized Frederic Krome in the Library Journal. "This is a painstakingly sensible book, suitable for die-hard Shakespeare lovers," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor; however, the same critic went on to say that the work was lacking in "intellectual muscle." In a review for Booklist, Margaret Flanagan took a different opinion, calling the overviews of the plays "illuminating." Flanagan concluded: "Both historians and literary scholars will welcome this intelligent examination of a significant portion of the Shakespeare canon." According to Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times: "It is easy enough for the reader to disagree with some of Lord Norwich's assessments"; yet the same reviewer noted that this does little "in the end, to detract from [the author's] overall account—a highly readable account that one hopes will send readers back to more in-depth studies of the period, and, of course, to Shakespeare's plays."
In 2005 Norwich published edited versions of the diaries of his father, Alfred Duff Cooper, the first Viscount Norwich. Duff Cooper was a war hero and statesman and further distinguished himself as a bestselling author and a popular wit. Rising from a modest background, he married, against the wishes of her parents, Lady Diana Manners, considered one of the great beauties of her era. The marriage was not a completely happy union. The couple moved in a social circle that was known for its decadence. Diana frequently indulged in alcohol and opiates, perhaps in part because of the pain she felt over Duff Cooper's constant infidelities. In time, she became so accustomed to the situation that she would even intervene for her husband when his affairs became too complicated. An Economist reviewer affirmed that "Cooper was a phenomenon," but suggested that these diaries do not flatter his memory. As Peregrine Worsthorne put it in the New Statesman: "The aristocratic social circles of the day are already familiar from countless other upper-class diaries, memoirs and biographies. This highly unrepresentative section of society is already grossly overexposed, and these diaries add little that is new."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337–1485, p. 1320.
Commentary, August, 1989, Jaroslav Pelikan, review of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, p. 58.
Commonweal, May 3, 1996, Carl L. Bankston III, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. 21.
Economist, April 29, 1967; October 1, 2005, review of The Duff Cooper Diaries, 1915–1951, p. 80.
History Today, August, 1992, Archie Dunn, review of Byzantium: The Apogee, p. 59.
Library Journal, November 15, 1995, Robert Andrews, review of Byzantium: The Apogee, p. 87; February 15, 2000, Frederic Krome, review of Shakespeare's Kings, p. 178.
Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1995, Anthony Day, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. E7.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 29, 1982, Edward Condren, review of A History of Venice; April 30, 1989, William Murray, review of A Taste for Travel: An Anthology, p. 6.
New Republic, November 8, 1982, Felix Gilbert, review of A History of Venice, p. 37.
New Statesman, October 24, 2005, Peregrine Worsthorne, review of The Duff Cooper Diaries, 1915–1951, p. 53.
New Yorker, May 10, 1982, review of A History of Venice, p. 169.
New York Review of Books, May 27, 1982, Peter Partner, review of A History of Venice, p. 22.
New York Times, April 11, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, review of Shakespeare's Kings, p. B7.
New York Times Book Review, May 30, 1982, Luigi Barzini, review of A History of Venice, p. 3; April 16, 1989, G.W. Bowersock, review of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, p. 9; February 16, 1992, Jaroslav Pelikan, review of Byzantium: The Apogee, p. 9; January 7, 1996, Hugh Kennedy, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. 10; May 21, 2000, R.N. Swanson, review of Shakespeare's Kings, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 1995, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. 50; January 31, 2000, review of Shakespeare's Kings, p. 89.
Saturday Review, March 6, 1971, Gabriel Gersh, review of The Kingdom in the Sun, 1130–1194.
Smithsonian, June, 1989, Richard Beeston, review of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, p. 168.
Spectator, November 11, 1995, Cyril Mango, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. 44.
Times Literary Supplement, December 19, 1980, William Haley, review of Christmas Crackers: Ten Commonplace Selections, 1970–1979; October 11, 1991, Michael Angold, review of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, p. 36; November 17, 1995, Michael Moorcock, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. 10.
Wall Street Journal, November 14, 1995, Francis X. Rocca, review of Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, p. A12.
Washington Post Book World, May 30, 1982, Lauro Martines, review of A History of Venice; March 22, 1987, J.Y. Smith, review of A Taste for Travel; January 19, 1992, Robert Irwin, review of Byzantium: The Apogee, p. 1.