Reading Picks from a Noted Urban Planner

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Witold Rybczynski, who is writing a memoir about his immigrant parents, has books evoking the atmosphere of World War II on his summer reading list. Rybczynski, a noted author and critic of urban planning, received the 2007 Vincent Scully Prize for Architecture.


Our summer reading series continues now with Witold Rybczynski. He received the 2007 Vincent Scully Prize for Architecture from the National Building Museum. The award recognized Rybczynski's contributions to the fields of architecture and urban planning. Welcome to the program.

Mr. WITOLD RYBCZYNSKI (Author, "Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville"; Urban Planner): Hi.

HANSEN: What are you reading now?

Mr. RYBCZYNSKI: I'm reading - I just started one of Evelyn Waugh's books, I tend to read books in - by authors. So I get involved with one author and I spend a lot of time reading several books. And I've been reading initially some of Waugh's comedic novels. But I've just started "Sword of Honor", which is a trilogy about the Second World War.

HANSEN: What do you think you're getting from the books of Evelyn Waugh? I mean, why pick him?

Mr. RYBCZYNSKI: Well, at the moment, I'm writing a memoir, which has to do with my parents and how their lives were turned upside down and why I was born in Scotland rather than Poland, which is where they were from. And Waugh wrote a lot of novels set particularly in that period of, sort of, 1938 to the beginning of the war. And my parents were Polish and he's writing about England. But there's something about him catching the period. And these were books that he wrote at the time. He wasn't writing in hindsight.

So you get a sense of - people knew something was coming, but they didn't actually know what, and so there's a sense of really not seeing the future, but feeling it in a vague way. And I found that useful in getting a sense of what it must have been like to be alive and making a life in 1938 and '39. So I've been reading him partly for that as well as beautiful language.

HANSEN: Oh, anything else.

Mr. RYBCZYNSKI: I was alternating Waugh with Ward Just, who is a contemporary novelist and who wrote a book - the first book I read of his was "Echo House", which is a book about Washington. And a sort of political family several generations of their lives.

HANSEN: What do you plan to read this summer? Have you put some books aside?

Mr. RYBCZYNSKI: Not really. I usually get books for reviewing. And that's always fun because they just come out of the blue. And if they're good, I really enjoy that because it's sort of like meeting somebody unexpectedly.

HANSEN: If you had all the time in the world, what book would you want to read?

Mr. RYBCZYNSKI: The book that I've - which I have both volumes is "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and I keep starting it and stopping not because I don't think it's good, but I somehow - I think I feel I need a lot of time. These are really fat two volumes. And so I think that would, sort of, keep me going for a long time.

HANSEN: Witold Rybczynski, his latest book is "Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville". Thanks for your time.

Mr. RYBCZYNSKI: Thank you.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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