New Books in Biography


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New Books in Biography navigateright Episode

Benjamin Binstock, “Vermeer’s Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice” (Routledge, 2009)

Ben Binstock‘s Vermeer’s Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice (Routledge, 2009) is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. It does what all good history books should do–tell you something you thought you knew but in fact don’t–but it does it ON EVERY PAGE. I thought Vermeer was X; now I know he was Y. I thought Vermeer was influenced by X; now I understand he was influenced by Y; I thought Vermeer painted X; now I realize he painted Y. I could go on and on, revelation after revelation. The biggest news–or rather the bit that will get the most press–is that a handful of “Vermeers” were in fact painted by his daughter, Maria. Vermeer’s Family Secrets is remarkably well researched and convincingly argued. It’s also lavishly illustrated. So are a lot of art history books. But this one is also intelligently illustrated: the way the pictures are arrayed serves the book’s many arguments. They are not simply eye-candy; they are also brain-candy. And the book is written in a clever, engaging, dry style. The short “Acknowledgments and Preface” are worth the price of admission. A word about that price. I confess I get all the books I do on this show free, thanks to the publishers. So I don’t know how much they cost. I thought this one, judging by the production value, was going to run somewhere around $100. That’s steep. But my friends, I’m delighted to tell you that you can buy this book for the low, low price of $32.85 from Amazon. It would make a great holiday gift. Since I have a copy on hand, I think I’ll give it to my brother-in-law (don’t tell him…).
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