Scott's book is an entertaining and readable overview of the culture of Gothic cathedral building in Europe, particularly France and England. A sociologist by trade, Scott shows himself to be well-studied in the literature of cathedral building, but has a tendency to base large passages on single books. I'm on the fence about giving this book a positive review because Scott altogether avoids what is for me the primary basic fact about cathedrals - the effect that they have on people who experience them.
8, Scott explains that the cathedral was meant to be an "embodiment of the mystical vision of harmony that divine reason has established throughout the cosmos." In other words, a cathedral is an image of the universe as perfectly conceived as possible. Scott helpfully explains the medieval understanding of "image": an imitation, a "literal copying of a natural form." The medievals believed that all materials contained pointers to God, and a well-carved bit of stone or wood would reveal something about the divine. (If only we viewed and practiced memory like the medievals!) One last thought: this is a good book to help you understand cathedrals if you already know and love them, but don't read this book before spending some hours wandering in awe beneath the soaring arches and spires of a few real cathedrals.
Scott has experienced the same emotions, and in The Gothic Enterprise, he pours his enthusiasm into describing the social phenomena that lead to the construction of these wonderful places. The third sections focuses upon architectural elements, moving beyond the stones themselves to use of light as a metaphor for God. Next, the uses that clergy and the populous made of their cathedrals are explored, with information about liturgy, finances, relics, and the power of the dead in the minds of the living.
The Gothic Enterprise is the unfortunate result you end up with if you have a sociologist write a book about architectural history. Robert Scott decided, apparently as the result of his love of visiting gothic cathedrals on vacation, to write a book on the subject. Some parts are interesting, and provide a very different perspective than a standard architectural history piece on the subject.
I also liked the historical balance of theory and actuality--sort of thing some people wouldn't do bad to read for a history class.
Though the first few chapters contain many facts about medieval cathedral building, most of the book is social commentary and interpretation.
Definitely a favorite book!
Scott set out to explain the hows and whys of cathedral building, and he did so with a very unsympathetic view of medievals.