Lord Kenneth Clark began his seminal 1969 television series Civilisation by quoting Ruskin: “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art.” Perhaps the same can be said of great men. James Stourton’s superb new biography, Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation, revisits Clark’s long career of deeds, quotes extensively from his large corpus of written work, and examines the televised art that he produced (“Civilisation was in a sense Clark’s autobiography”) to present a compelling picture of a great man.

Stourton, the former chairman of Sotheby’s U.K., begins at the beginning, describing Clark’s Edwardian childhood as the...


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