James H S McGregor

The Countryside and Historic Cities

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Back to the Garden:  Nature and the Mediterranean World from Prehistory to the Present

“ A fascinating reappraisal of the ecological history of the cradle of Western traditions.  Its conclusions are hopeful—perhaps our war with nature is less deeply rooted than we thought.”—Bill McKibben


James McGregor’s work on Mediterranean deep history is an exhaustive and highly convincing presentation of the sophistication and sustainability of our old Neolithic European cultures before the ‘disaster’ that civilization proved to be, overwhelmed them all.”—Gary Snyder.

"Back to the Garden is a unique survey of the changing ecology of the Mediterranean world that places traditional farming practices at the center of environmental debates. We have much to learn from the neglected farmers of earlier times. In this important, beautifully written book, James McGregor throws a bright and persuasive light on the lessons that the past offers the present and future."—Brian Fagan, author of The Attacking Ocean and Elixir


‘Back to the Garden is an ambitious, challenging book that should prove indispensable to students of history, literature, ecology and myth.’—Laurence Coupe,THES.

“… as a manifesto about the gradual erosion of a prudent ecological ethic, the book is agreeable and interesting. McGregor writes nimbly and unpretentiously. He can almost make you see a Tuscan villa or a Languedoc vineyard.”—John R. McNeill, Environmental History

“McGregor’s central contribution is his acute, often scintillating literary exploration of the First Nature concept and its fall.”—Max Ajl, Agriculture and Human Values


Rome from the Ground Up

Rome from the Ground Up is an enthralling book. McGregor’s sensitive, lively writing rises to the beauties of the city and, miraculously, does so with the same economy that characterizes Roman Baroque architecture. McGregor obviously sees Rome’s most sublime realms and writes a sublime prose to match, as far away from Rococo ornament as it is from the Rome that is grubby, gruff, crowded, boorish and bureaucratic—and this is perfectly true to the city, for that remarkably pure vision that is the Rome of the imagination has always floated above the Rome of reality, certainly since the time of Cicero and Vergil, probably since Romulus emerged from his mud hut alongside the Forum stream.—Ingrid Rowland, author of From Heaven to Arcadia

An astonishing feat of exposition and compression, Rome from the Ground Up would be immensely useful for any intelligent visitor in Rome for the first time. —Anthony Grafton, author of Bring out Your Dead

“Here is a walking tour in stately, inviting prose that renders wonderfully manageable a massive history lesson for the intellectually curious and adept.Publishers Weekly

 “Where history, architecture, and travel find common ground is where this author dwells... The text, peppered with crisp illustrations, is recommended for the erudite traveler.—Brad Hooper, Booklist

Rome from the Ground Up is splendid. It is an informative and intriguing introduction to the city, not only for those on their first visit but also for many who have been beguiled by the city but have wanted a guide to lead them step by step, illuminating buildings as they go, who may not need (nor want) the quantities of information supplied by a more thoroughgoing architectural guide. As such it fills a distinct need and has done it handsomely. I will certainly recommend it to our students-- and to anyone else heading to Rome.—Alexander Purves, Professor, Yale University School of Architecture

 “An important addition to the already jam-packed library of books on Rome...Unlike the standard Baedecker guide--which leads the reader through meticulously detailed tours of specific sites--McGregor takes on the whole magnificent sweep of Roman history, from Romulus to Rutelli...Rome from the Ground Up provides just the kind of overarching structure that the visitor to Rome needs, either on the way to or back from the Italian capital. It is also a beautifully-written work, providing a prose that is a very fitting tribute to the sights that it describes.—Michael Moore, US Italia Weekly

 “I can’t really have a favorite book on Rome, can I? No, but...well, this comes close. In three hundred pages of clean, muscular prose, McGregor has done the almost impossible task of pulling the glories of this city together in a neat, readable, incredibly well informed study. He takes us through the history of Rome as reflected through its physical presence, as he briskly describes with a wonderful eye what we can still see around us, and how we can place these wonders into a coherent sense of the city.—Robert Barret, SlowTravel


Venice from the Ground Up

James H. S. McGregor marches us through the city, stopping off at his favourite sites, and offering along the way extended discussions of the main features of the medieval and subsequent periods of Venetian history. Moreover, he gives a much fuller account of the city’s political structure, its distinctive social patterns, and its cultural commitments than a guide normally allows...This may well be the best short account of the structure of [St. Mark’s Basilica] and the programme of its mosaics now in print. It is full of fascinating detail and acute observation...As a sourcebook of fascinating detail about Venice, laced with a splendid invective against Napoleon, this is a work that will profit even long-time visitors.—Theodore K. Rabb, Times Literary Supplement

This is an excellent book. The history of the city is recounted as if it were a story, which makes the whole work eminently readable. The history of Venice is as meandering as its canals, and to have achieved an overall straightforward path through it is no small feat. McGregor’s book is a perfect introduction to Venice. Italians themselves would read it with profit. —Piero Boitani, Professor of Comparative Literature at University of Rome La Sapienza

 “Whether an armchair traveler or a gondola aficionado, the romantic will enjoy James H.S. McGregor’s Venice from the Ground Up. This handsomely produced and always entertaining narrative history of the city of canals is full of useful information for tourists, lovely color photos and detailed maps.—Jay Strafford and Sue Harris, Richmond Times-Dispatch

More than a travel guide, this scholarly yet readable volume by James H.S. McGregor weaves the story of how art and architecture were used to create one of the world’s most enduring cities. For the armchair reader and those planning to visit Venice, this second-in-a-series guide (Rome was published in 2005) to the Queen of the Adriatic connects the city’s incredible history with daily life.—Terry Richard, Sunday Oregonian

 “James McGregor’s historical portrait of Europe’s strangest and most beautiful city shows how Venice’s architecture and character came about in response to the peculiar environmental challenges of its location and its precarious political position. This book is organized topographically and chronologically, allowing the reader to explore the city’s monuments and canals through both space and time.London Review of Books


Washington from the Ground Up

For visitors to the White House, the Congress, the Senate, the Library of Congress, the National Mall and scores of other federal buildings, institutions and attractions, this guide brings to life the architecture of the capital, placing each piece in a historical perspective that is national in scope. The writing, crisp and direct, is enlivened with anecdotes about our rulers and their often unruly subjects who made history in these same buildings.—J. D. Brown and Margaret Backenheimer, Chicago Tribune

McGregor’s story of our nation’s capitol begins with George Washington’s selection of the site in 1790 and then proceeds to chronicle the history of the federal city’s construction. He discusses the competition to design the executive mansion, what he calls the burgeoning bureaucracy, and the creation of 130 acres for the president’s grounds; the city’s public walks and the development of its prestigious neighborhoods are also part of his purview...Also brought into the profile are the city’s many libraries, churches, monuments, and museums; McGregor tells how they relate to the capitol’s history. A solid, thoroughly researched book.—George Cohen, Booklist

James McGregor’s Washington from the Ground Up is a fine undertaking, a concise account of the city that integrates geography, history, and design. “From the ground up,” the author discusses Washington’s terrain and topography as they relate to its urban development ... The chapter on Pierre L’Enfant and early Washington is especially good, and the chapter on the local and social history of Washington is outstanding. This is a book by a man who truly knows and loves Washington.—Richard Striner, Weekly Standard


Paris from the Ground Up

In clean, sharp writing, [McGregor] uses the city’s key landmarks--their conception, design, construction and function--to tell the story of Paris...The collection of full-color plates helps make this an enjoyable and informative publication.—Elizabeth Meryment, Weekend Australian

An ode to the City of Light, this book traces the history of Paris through its art and architecture from its Roman era through contemporary times.—Judith H. Dobrzynski, Real Clear Arts blog

In James H. S. McGregor’s Paris from the Ground Up--which offers an informative history of the city’s art and architecture--the Eiffel Tower necessarily [occupies] only four pages...But those four pages are invaluable...This insight is typical of McGregor, who has written three other books in the From the Ground Up series and who is at his best when elaborating on the technical aspects of Paris’s buildings.—Caroline Weber, New York Times Book Review

For writers, historians, artists, and anyone who appreciates a beautiful, vibrant city, Paris remains a mecca. McGregor has written three earlier "ground-up" books, on Rome, Venice, and Washington, D.C. Here he masterfully combines the genres of travel guide, urban history, and art history to provide a stimulating portrait of another of the world’s great cultural attractions. McGregor traces the evolution of Paris from its pre-Roman origins as a Gallic settlement on the Seine, to its development as an outpost of Romano-Gallic culture, to its medieval flowering and maturing into the acknowledged cultural heart of continental Europe. To illustrate that evolution, he provides interesting vignettes on artistic and architectural landmarks, including Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur, and the Arc de Triomphe. Those who already know Paris will appreciate this informative tribute to the City of Light; or newcomers, this work will be educational.—Jay Freeman, Booklist

James H. S. McGregor’s excellent From the Ground Up series treats the city as a palimpsest, substituting space for time and allowing the reader to explore the history of a place while wandering its streets. Here he traces the story of Paris, describing the remnants of a long history that are, for the most part, buried deep beneath the city streets.London Review of Books

[A] definitive portrait of Paris. Combining chronological history with a cultural exploration of all things architectural, artistic and practical, this volume is a popular record that could serve as a comprehensive textbook for City of Lights 101. Crafted with fluency and fluidity, McGregor can be overwhelming in his level of detail; great churches, museums and the artists responsible for them, from Gaul to DeGaulle, are all examined in extreme close-up. To his credit, McGregor acknowledges that the "human history of the place that became Paris is exceedingly long," and keeps it lively with public bath tours, the secrets of aqueducts and central heating, tales of martyrs from St. Denis to Joan of Arc, and unending cathedral construction (emphasizing Notre Dame); the Sorbonne, marketplace evolution and the great plague all play their part. The Louvre is explored meticulously in many permutations, as are the sewers and even the language. McGregor makes a convincing case that Paris, like Athens and Rome, is a city "that combined political power and cultural preeminence...the only conceivable place to succeed."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Somewhere between armchair travel guide and a history text, Paris From the Ground Up presents a picture of Paris told from the point of view of its buildings, walls, and streets, resulting in a kind of architectural biography.—Rick Dakan, PopMatters

“by injecting something of a humanistic spirit into the places on which he writes, James H. S. McGregor brings the essential essence of a city to life. While his previous ‘From the Ground Up’ writings include Rome, Venice and Washington, Paris from the Ground Up really is something else.  By writing with an astute authority in relation to his subject, as well as an acute awareness of his readership (and if it isn’t thus, it most certainly comes across as such), the author inadvertently ensnares his readers into wanting to investigate—both city and book—a great deal further.

Contained herein is something for everyone:  for hedonists to historians, from philosophers to poets, from romantics to revolutionaries, from dedicated followers of both fashion and passion to architects and artists.”  David Marx Book Reviews


“McGregor uses a chronological approach to paint a vivid and engaging portrait of the city and its inhabitants from the preclassical period to the development of Athens as a modern metropolis. McGregor pays the necessary tribute to the classical heritage, but he also sheds light on aspects of the Byzantine, Ottoman, and modern periods, and he deftly shows both the elements of continuity and the breaks with the past. The result is a well-deserved tribute to a great city.”—Jay Freeman, Booklist

“McGregor describes the great city of Athens in solid detail as it spirals out from its core on the Acropolis.”—Kirkus Reviews

“McGregor…takes readers through centuries of Greek history, art, and architecture to provide both ‘a coherent narrative’ and a travel guide.”—Publishers Weekly

“What is remarkable about McGregor’s Athens is its uncanny clarity: not only the author’s eloquence in exploring an archaic, classical, Hellenistic, and modern Greek world but the wisdom that has gone into reconstructing that world from its first settlers to the vast and sprawling metropolis that is now contemporary Athens. McGregor has truly captured the pulse of the city.”—John Chioles, New York University and the University of Athens