the guardian Fri 15 August 2008
"Rough tongue-free unselfgoverned" was John Henry Newman's description of Augustus Pugin, the 19th-century architect, designer and - arguably - mastermind behind the clocktower that now houses Big Ben. Yet the future cardinal added that he "could not help" but like the unruly Pugin - an assessment hard to shake after reading a biography that is as robust and energetic as its curious subject. Rosemary Hill rolls out the dramatic panorama of Pugin's life and work, a vast tableau of wives and children, illnesses and feuds, theatrical lowlife and theological high-brows, as well as detailing the splendours and quirks of the buildings Pugin loved and created. This book leaves the reader reeling with the seasick pitch of constant motion, a forward thrust driven by Pugin's headful of ideas and the turbulent times in which he lived. He ultimately became insane - Hill posits that his last illness was syphilis, picked up in Covent Garden - and his legacy of brick and stone remains in contrast with the unsteady lurches of his life.