Wright, Patrick 1951- (Patrick Stephen Wright)

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Wright, Patrick 1951- (Patrick Stephen Wright)


Born January 23, 1951, in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, England; son of A.R.D. and H.M. Wright; married Claire Lawton (a doctor); children: three sons. Education: Attended Shrewsbury Technical College, 1969-70; University of Kent, B.A., 1973; Simon Fraser University, M.A., 1977.


Office—Institute for Cultural Analysis, School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Site, Clifton, Nottingham NG11 8NS, England. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer and journalist, broadcaster, curator, and consultant to cultural and social organizations. Industrial Society, London, England, training advisor, 1980-81; National Council for Voluntary Organizations, London, England, head of management development unit, 1983-87. Teaches at the London Consortium. Writer and presenter of television documentaries, including The River (a four-part series about the Thames, for BBC2, 1999), and A Day to Remember, Channel Four, 1999. Also many radio documentaries on cultural and political themes for BBC Radio 4 and 3. Presenter of BBC Radio Three's cultural review program, "Night Waves," 1995-2002. Exhibitions: Recording Britain, cocurator, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, 1990; Stanley Spencer, Tate Museum, London, England, 2001; Broken Ground: Technology and the Modern British Landscape, curator, Tate Museum, London, England, 2003.


On Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain, Verso (London, England), 1985.

(With Charles Landry and others) What a Way to Run a Railroad: An Analysis of Radical Failure, Comedia (London, England), 1985.

(With David A. Mellor and Gill Saunders) Recording Britain, David & Charles (London, England), 1990.

A Journey through Ruins: The Last Days of London, Radius (London, England), 1991, enlarged edition published as A Journey through Ruins, A Keyhole Portrait of British Postwar Life and Culture, Flamingo (London, England), 1993.

The Village That Died for England: The Strange Story of Tyneham, J. Cape (London, England), 1995, revised and enlarged edition, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2002.

The River: The Thames in Our Times, BBC Worldwide (London, England), 1999.

Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2000, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Timothy Hyman) Stanley Spencer, Tate (London, England), 2001.

Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2007.

(Editor and author of introduction) Emanuel Litvinoff Journey through a Small Planet, Penguin Modern Classics (London, England), 2008.

Contributor to periodicals and journals, including London Review of Books, Guardian, Sunday Times, Independent, Washington Post Book World, Twentieth Century British History, Rising East, Soundings, BBC History, Countryside Voice, Open Democracy, Purbeck, Freibeuter, Journal for the Study of British Cultures, Granta, Esquire, Modern Painters, National Trust, Revista do Patrimônio, British Studies, Emergency, Block, American Studies International, Listener, New Society, New Socialist, City Limits, Ethical Record, Georgia Straight, Göteborgs-Posten, and Observer.


The River was adapted as a four-part series for BBC television.


Patrick Wright is an English writer, curator, and cultural consultant. In 1979 Wright returned to his native England after a five-year sojourn in Canada, where he completed a master of arts degree at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University. He was immediately struck by a curious atmosphere in which nostalgia and preservation coincided with the modern- izations promised by Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister that same year. A series of essays grew out of these impressions. On Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain initiated considerable discussion about the place of tradition in a changing society. Beginning with some theoretical discussion about the present functions of the past, Wright actually advises readers less academically inclined to skip the first chapter. "I don't know where his ideal audience is to be found, but on a second reading I took his advice and realized that I had stumbled into a quite exceptional and richly rewarding book," wrote Colin Ward in the Times Educational Supplement, adding: "You won't feel the same about the heritage industry after this devastating series of iconoclastic reflections." Wright's "discursive, stimulating book," in the words of Listener contributor D.A.N. Jones, covers a wide range of preservation projects and the ways they intersect with nationalism, gentrification, and institutional self-preservation. "In Wright's vision, nostalgia has become a monster with a stranglehold over English society…. In expressing this view, Wright is, I think, attaching too much weight to the outlook of the gentrified classes," Paul Addison wrote in the London Review of Books. For New Statesman contributor Anthony Barnett, Wright's book "is uneven and sometimes obscure, but full of intellectual and political life. His is a new and welcome voice."

Wright followed up this investigation of heritage with an exploration of contemporary London under Margaret Thatcher. In A Journey through Ruins: The Last Days of London, Wright uses a small stretch of Dalston Lane, one of East London's shabbier thoroughfares, as a prism through which to review the culture and politics of the time. Strolling through this poor but also mixed and resistant section of the metropolis, he talks to struggling tenants and shopkeepers, and watches the future break over many distressed buildings, including once-rural mansions sucked into the city more than a century ago, chaotic high-rise housing projects, and crumbling old match factories under conversion for "loft-living." The book traces the rise of management consultancy over failed municipal politics in the town hall. It follows Prince Charles's concerned visits to the area, and reviews the impact of various governmental policies on a city where the state-led reforms of the so-called "postwar settlement" were indeed suffering their last days. "A journalistic job-lot of excursions, one might suppose. But they are held together by sheer good writing, sense and humanity, by their common point of departure, and by Wright's dogged assumption … that matters visual and matters moral are still somewhat inextricable," Times Literary Supplement contributor Andrew Saint concluded. For New Statesman & Society reviewer Raphael Samuel, "one of [the book's] great strengths is that it is inventively digressive, so that the parts of the argument are often more rewarding than the whole." Writing in the Observer, Boyd Tonkin described Wright as "a pin-sharp miniaturist who can see the world in a grain of sand." In Independent on Sunday, David Widgery declared: "Here is a city dweller with the gusto of Baudelaire and the eye of Jane Jacobs who, undeterred by dog shit and bullshit, enjoys the chaotic humanity, the ironic architectural juxtapositions, the Esprit de jeu of late Twentieth Century London."

After this modern excursion down a small but emblematic road in the big city, Wright's next book was focused on a landscape and a tiny hamlet, or ex-hamlet, on the coast of Dorset. In The Village That Died for England: The Strange Story of Tyneham Wright tells how that village was commandeered by the British War Department to create a training ground for Allied tanks on the eve of D-Day, and how the former owners and inhabitants spent the next decades unsuccessfully trying to get the army to fulfill its promise to give them back their homes when the war was over. Caught up in this ongoing and highly publicized story of local injustice are wider questions of conservation, ecology, national identity, and the legitimacy, or otherwise, of the modern state. Campaigns to remove the military date back to 1919, shortly after the first land was requisitioned in this famously beautiful coastal area. Yet the story is full of ironies, since Tyneham's ecologically rich landscape actually turns out to have been preserved through its conversion into a tank gunnery range, while surrounding areas have succumbed to modernization and urbanization. London Review of Books contributor Michael Mason concluded, "Wright's reminder of how muddled is the broadly ‘conservationist’ position, and of how long a history these muddles have … is extremely valuable." In addition to the central dispute centered on the army's land grab, Wright covers the region's prewar history of dueling preservationists, with fascists, communists, and various eccentrics proposing their visions on behalf of the long-suffering peasantry. "His book is a superb exploration of Anglo-Saxon attitudes to the landscape and its inhabitants, presented in extraordinary and sobering detail," concluded New Statesman & Society reviewer Colin Ward. Writing in the Spectator, Jonathan Keates described it as "arguably the subtlest, most exhaustive rummaging through the overstuffed baggage of Twentieth-Century Englishness so far attempted."

The tanks that played such a central role in Tyneham's history move center stage in Wright's next book. Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine traces the history of these brutally effective vehicles, from their development in World War I and throughout the 20th century. The book opens with the famous episode of 1989 when a single protester held up a column of tanks just off Tiananmen Square in Beijing. From this departure point, it goes on to review the history of the tank from a predominantly cultural point of view. Wright considers the secondary image of the tank, as it appears in films, books, artworks, and political speeches. But he also describes an allegorical dimension to the tank itself—treating it as a weapon that has always worked in part as a symbolic device, capable of overawing people by its mere appearance. From this perspective, the history of the tank is not just a matter of technological or doctrinal developments and battle narratives. Wright traces the tank from its first appearance as a literary fantasy—glimpsed in the pages of a science fiction story by H.G. Wells years before it was first launched into the mud of the Western Front in 1916. He suggests that the most effective employment of the tank in World War I may actually have been as a fund-raising device in war bond campaigns, toured around British and Australian cities with immense effect.

Wright also investigates some of the leading personalities involved, including the eccentricities of tank pioneer General J.F.C. Fuller, whose influential theory of tank warfare is shown to have been closely foreshadowed by the occult theories of Aleister Crowley. After tracing the tank's emergence as the "wonder-weapon" of World War I, the book goes on to consider its interwar development under Fascist leaders, including Hitler and Mussolini, who became fixated by the symbolic rather than the practical promise of the tank.

Some military reviewers recoiled at the book. Conservative military historian John Keegan wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "the trouble with Patrick Wright's good idea is that it is good for something not much longer than a Sunday colour- supplement article and no more profound." Others were more favorably disposed. According to Bruce McCall in the New York Times Book Review, the book was "anything but another catalogue of facts and figures for the war buff. Wright liberates military history from the military expert's blinkered view…. We should all be deeply grateful that he has done us the favor of pouring so much into this rich, fascinating, definitive book." Chris Lehmanm, writing in the Washington Post, remarked that "this witty, trenchant and engaging chronicle of the tank and its century is, indeed, something more instructive and astonishing than anything H.G. Wells ever dreamed of."

In 2007, Wright published Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War. The account studies the early stages of Stalinism after World War II, as seen by Western delegates to the Soviet Union. He also breaks down the myth that Winston Churchill coined the term "iron curtain" by showing how and when the term had been used prior to this.

Fred Inglis, reviewing the book in the London Independent, recorded that "Wright ends with no comfort for London, Washington, or Moscow. For what he has reanimated is the endless human making of delusion and prejudice, tightly manacled by cast-iron metaphor." New Statesman contributor Eleanor Lee observed that "Wright fleshes out the story behind each in unstinting detail" in the use of the term "iron curtain." Nigel Jones, reviewing the book in History Today, claimed that "Wright is an unusual historian—following by-ways normally overlooked by those with their eyes more firmly fixed on the mainstream." Jones, however, suggested that with this book, Wright "has probably bitten off more than he can chew." Writing in the Telegraph, Noel Malcolm noted that readers "are hurried from one absorbing digression to another: from the methods of curing ham in Missouri to the development of camouflage and electrified fencing in the First World War to the invention of synthetic hormonal drugs in 1970s Czechoslovakia." He added: "It all adds up to a most enjoyable performance; but don't blame yourself too harshly when you discover that you have almost completely lost the plot."



Pfister, Manfred, Soundings, Issue 8: Active Warfare, "Writing the Obituaries; Interview with Patrick Wright," pp. 14-48, Lawrence & Wishart (London, England), 1998.


American Historical Review, October, 1986, Harvey J. Kaye, review of On Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain, p. 932; April, 2003, Leonard V. Smith, review of Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine, pp. 487-488.

American Journal of Sociology, January, 1987, Stewart Weaver, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 1009.

Architects' Journal, May 18, 1995, Andrew Mead, review of The Village That Died for England: The Strange Story of Tyneham, p. 52.

Army, May, 2003, John F. Antal, review of Tank, p. 79.

Bestsellers, April, 1986, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 28.

Contemporary Review, December, 1996, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 333.

English Historical Review, November, 2004, J.M. Bourne, review of Tank, p. 1454.

Foreign Affairs, September, 2002, review of Tank, p. 202.

Guardian (London, England), November 3, 1985, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 3; June 30, 1991, review of A Journey through Ruins: The Last Days of London, p. 27.

Historian, summer, 2004, Gordon A. Blaker, review of Tank, p. 419.

History Today, May, 1995, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 72; December 1, 2007, Nigel Jones, review of Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War, p. 64.

Independent (London, England), January 25, 2008, Fred Inglis, review of Iron Curtain. Independent on Sunday, May 1, 1991, David Widgery, "Hackneyed Views, New Perspectives," p. 24.

Journal of Historical Geography, October, 1987, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 438; April, 1996, David Matless, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 228.

Journal of Military History, October, 2002, Donn A. Starry, review of Tank, pp. 1242-1243.

Kirkus Review, August 15, 2007, review of Iron Curtain.

Listener, October 31, 1985, D.A.N. Jones, review of On Living in an Old Country, pp. 31-32.

London Review of Books, October 9, 1986, Paul Addison, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 3; June 27, 1991, review of A Journey through Ruins, p. 7; October 5, 1995, Michael Mason, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 12.

Media, Culture, & Society, January, 1992, Adrian Mellor, review of A Journey through Ruins, p. 149.

Naval War College Review, winter, 2003, David Rodman, review of Tank, p. 184.

New Statesman, November 15, 1985, Anthony Barnett, review of On Living in an Old Country, pp. 29-30; October 29, 2007, Eleanor Lee, review of Iron Curtain, p. 59.

New Statesman & Society, May 10, 1991, Raphael Samuel, review of A Journey through Ruins, pp.36-37; March 17, 1995, Colin Ward, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 78; March 1, 1996, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 37.

New York Times Book Review, May 5, 2002, Bruce McCall, "Annals of the Land Battleship," p. 7; June 2, 2002, review of Tank, p. 28.

Observer, May 5, 1991, Boyd Tonkin, review of A Journey through Ruins, p. 61; May 3, 1992, review of A Journey through Ruins, p. 54; April 9, 1995, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 17.

Parameters, winter, 2002, review of Tank, p. 148.

Political Quarterly, July-September, 1992, John Solomos, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 366.

Spectator, March 25, 1995, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 34; June 7, 1997, Jonathan Keates, "Pop Goes the Nation," p. 44.

Telegraph (London, England), October 25, 2007, Noel Malcolm, review of Iron Curtain.

Times Educational Supplement, October 11, 1985, Colin Ward, review of On Living in an Old Country, p. 27; December 25, 1992, review of A Journey through Ruins, p. 21; April 9, 1995, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 17.

Times Higher Educational Supplement, March 31, 1995, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 22.

Times Literary Supplement, June 21, 1991, Andrew Saint, review of A Journey through Ruins, p. 6; March 24, 1995, Claire Harman, review of The Village That Died for England, p. 27; October 6, 2000, John Keegan, "The Pink Panzer," p. 11.

Washington Post, May 12, 2002, Chris Lehman, "Rolling Thunder," p. 6; December 1, 2002, review of Tank, p. 8.


Patrick Wright Home Page,http://www.patrickwright.net (July 28, 2008), author biography.

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