Charlie English's (79-86) book tells of the doctor and art historian Hans Prinzhorn who put together the world's foremost collection of artworks by psychiatric patients in the aftermath of World War I. The Prinzhorn Collection, as it became known, inspired a new generation of modern artists, including Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali. But when the self-taught artist Adolf Hitler rose to power, he turned on the new aesthetic, launching an exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ which pilloried modern art, and stripping modern works from German museums. Professional artists fled the country, but Prinzhorn's artists could not flee. Instead, they were targeted by Hitler's first mass-murder campaign, against the mentally ill. Combining inspirational art history with the disturbed exploits of a fanatical art-dictator, the story reveals the catastrophic cost of the culture war Hitler launched in Nazi Germany.
Published by Harper Collins in August 2021, the book has already received highly acclaimed reviews in the literary press. The Publisher’s Weekly said “In this fascinating account, journalist English unpacks Hitler’s mad campaign against mentally ill artists… In musing on the definition of art, limitations of clinical psychology, and the rise of fascism, English’s story feels strikingly relevant. While shedding new light on this piece of history, English also provides a cautionary tale for the future.” Whilst The Wall Street Journal describes it as “A penetrating chronicle . . . deftly links art history, psychiatry, and Hitler’s ideology to devastating effect”, and The Times as “A superbly told story of worlds colliding ... it's hard to know where to start heaping praise. It is by turns intriguing, tragic, horrifying and occasionally funny ... [He] writes in a carefully controlled and phlegmatic fashion allowing outrage to emerge from the events themselves.”
Charlie is a freelance writer and former journalist for The Guardian, where he held several positions including arts editor and head of international news. He has appeared on NPR, the BBC and Channel 4, written for numerous newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Telegraph and the Independent. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the author of several books including ‘The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu’ and ‘The Snow Tourist’. This latest book is available online and from all good bookshops. A more detailed insight into the story and the historical events the book covers can be found in the Daily Mail here.
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