The best ancient and modern books to make a modern book about ancient castles

Who am I?

For more than twenty years I was the Editor in Chief of the French magazine Citizen K. I’ve been dedicating myself to more personal projects. I’m keen on connecting words and pictures. Fond about Architecture and History I did after long investigations in the former Soviet Union, a book dedicated to the late Soviet Architecture. CCCP was published in 2011 by Taschen. Through my text and photographs I featured in it a set of extraordinary and ignored buildings. Luckily, this achievement having met with success, it brought me to a new photographic project. With Stone Age, published in 2021, I gathered through 400 pages more than 200 primitive castles selected all around Europe.

I wrote...

Stone Age: Ancient Castles of Europe

By Frédéric Chaubin,

Book cover of Stone Age: Ancient Castles of Europe

What is my book about?

I stumbled upon the Sadaba castle when travelling through Spain in 2015 and got impressed by the scale, the simplicity and the strength of this XIIIth century structure. At the time, I was looking for a new topic which could be an extension of my work about Soviet buildings. Because Sadaba was built in the rock and recalled the early modernist shapes, the Stone Age concept came into my mind. I started looking for the most austere and earliest remnants of this prehistory of architectural functionalism. I kept with the principles of my previous book, featuring anachronic buildings into some landscape photography and tried at the same time to keep in mind the XIX th century romantic perspective on Middle Ages. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ivanhoe

Frédéric Chaubin Why did I love this book?

This knight in white armor had already enchanted several generations of readers before being interpreted by Roger Moore in a 50’s TV serial. More precisely, since 1819, when the Walter Scott novel was first published. In this British saga using as a background the 13th-century historical quagmire, the handsome and immaculate Ivanhoé, a Saxon knight back from the crusades, gets stuck between love and chastity and spends most of his time overcoming disloyal Normans bearing French names. Morality had to prevail in the kingdom of England. This immensely popular novel, along with giving rebirth to the ancient chivalry romances, mostly helped in promoting the medieval revival. Its idealized vision came to be shared by the romantics and helped fuel the XIX century craving for aesthetics and architecture of the gothic age. A fashion that brought unprecedented concern about heritage preservation on which ground Viollet-le-Duc and John Ruskin found an occasion to heat up the old rivalry between the British and French.

By Walter Scott,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ivanhoe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ivanhoe is set in England in the 1190s, over a century after the Norman Conquest which saw William the Conqueror seize the English throne. A wealthy nobleman named Cedric, who is intent on restoring a Saxon to the throne, plans to wed Rowena, a beautiful young woman who is his ward, to the Saxon Athelstane of Coningsburgh. There’s just one small problem: Rowena has fallen in love with Cedric’s son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe. To get him out of the way so Rowena will marry Athelstane, Cedric banishes his own son from the kingdom. Ivanhoe (as Wilfred is known, by his…

Book cover of Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture

Frédéric Chaubin Why did I love this book?

Do we need architects for our homes? Well, it seems that in the past they often failed to be there. Bernard Rudovsky, who was himself an architect, featured in 1964 an exhibition dedicated to the topic at the New York MoMA. The related catalogue, Architecture Without Architects, has since then turned into an iconic book. A beautiful set of black and white pictures that describes a primitive state of the art in which skilled but anonymous builders applied throughout the planet the laws of nature giving birth to what is presently labeled as vernacular styles. No names survived despite the talents, in this collection featuring the first steps of architecture, but rationality and functionality are already there, long before Modernism would make them its core principles. It was a pleasant surprise to discover in this book some kind of credit to my belief that medieval castles may have inspired the Brutalist architects.  

By Bernard Rudofsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Architecture Without Architects as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book, Bernard Rudofsky steps outside the narrowly defined discipline that has governed our sense of architectural history and discusses the art of building as a universal phenomenon. He introduces the reader to communal architecture--architecture produced not by specialists but by the spontaneous and continuing activity of a whole people with a common heritage, acting within a community experience. A prehistoric theater district for a hundred thousand spectators on the American continent and underground towns and villages (complete with schools, offices, and factories) inhabited by millions of people are among the unexpected phenomena he brings to light.

The beauty…

Book cover of Das Schloss

Frédéric Chaubin Why did I love this book?

“When K looked at the castle he sometimes thought he saw someone sitting quietly there, looking into space, (…) as if he were alone and no one was observing him…” 

It seems that castles are watching us, with some kind of emotional detachment. This impression is described in this famous Kafka novel featuring a traveler stranded in a remote Mitteleuropa village who despite his tenacity fails to reach the castle that overlooks the place. Apart from the usual kafkaesque absurdity, this unfinished novel brings to mind the feeling of oddness that someone often goes through when approaching a castle, facing its uncanny presence. Even more, it conveys the strange fact that the path that leads to them, probably because of their unusual scale, seems always endless.

By Franz Kafka,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Das Schloss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Franz Kafka - Das SchlossDas Schloss ist einer der drei unvollendeten Romane von Franz Kafka. Die Hauptfigur K. trifft in einem Dorf ein und gibt an, der bestellte Landvermesser zu sein. K versucht nun, zum Schloss vorzudringen, welches als undurchschaubarer, bürokratischer Verwaltungsapparat das Leben des Dorfes regelt. Kafkas Roman begleitet K. dabei, wie er an der Bürokratie und der Undurchschaubarkeit des Systems kontinuierlich scheitert und zunehmend verzweifelt.

Book cover of Reinhart Wolf: Castillos

Frédéric Chaubin Why did I love this book?

I had already included some Spanish castles in my project when I heard about the Reinhard Wolf book and discovered his unsettling pictures. This German artist had photographed the same castles half a century before me, using the same analogic films and the same traditional view cameras, composing frames that I had reproduced without knowing his work. It seems that buildings, like human beings, have a good profile which a photographer cannot miss. The other surprise came from the unexpected feeling that my photographs had been shot prior to Reinhart Wolf’s. Because the castles had meantime been restored, their walls being refreshed, the course of time seemed reversed: they appeared in an earlier condition through my camera than photographed 50 years before, when partly ruined. Having in mind that photography is much about time and traces, the discovery was puzzling. By chance the scope of my personal project was not limited to Spain.

By F. Chueca Goitia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reinhart Wolf as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Globes: Spheres Volume II

Frédéric Chaubin Why did I love this book?

What does a castle and Noah’s ark have in common? What is a castle, if not an over-dimensioned hull? In Globes, part of his Sphere trilogy, the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk brings architecture to its anthropological origin, the necessity to regain the initial womb’s protection, a shared comfort zone confronting exterior threats. Like the mythical cities in which history always start by a ground delimitation, the castles are erecting their walls and closing their gates to preserve the interior world and its coherence from the exterior chaos. In an analogy to the Middle Age, gated communities reproduce in a regressive way this reality. Only the privileged will be saved.

By Peter Sloterdijk, Wieland Hoban (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Globes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second, and longest, volume in Peter Sloterdijk's celebrated Spheres trilogy, on the world history and philosophy of globalization.

All history is the history of struggles for spheric expansion.
—from Globes

In Globes—the second, and longest, volume in Peter Sloterdijk's celebrated magnum opus Spheres trilogy—the author attempts nothing less than to uncover the philosophical foundations of the political history—the history of humanity—of the last two thousand years. The first, well-received volume of the author's Spheres trilogy, Bubbles, dealt with microspheres: the fact that individuals, from the fetal stage to childhood, are never alone, because they always incorporate the Other into…

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The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…

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