This blog post will be the first standalone book review I’ve written since 2018! To be honest, I’m feeling a little rusty—I used to crank out book reviews all the time, but it’s been almost four years. Hopefully it’s just like riding a bike…although to be honest I’m not very good at that, either!
Anyways, I thought I’d jump back into writing book reviews by sharing one that’s incredibly easy to recommend: Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey. I love books that introduce me to new subjects, and this book could almost serve as a primer for great artists and their lives. The book is divided into ten chapters, nine of which focus on individual artists ranging from Michelangelo to the Impressionists, from Vermeer to Van Gogh.
Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey checked a lot of boxes I have when it comes to a good “recommendable” book:
- It’s written by an author I respect.
- It’s engaging and intellectual without being too academic.
- It’s readable in the best sense—I was able to read it in one sitting, which is always a treat.
- It’s the kind of book that instantly makes me want to read and learn more.
So let’s jump in!
About the Author:
I’ll start by saying that I love Russ Ramsey’s work—he is the author of my very favorite Advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God, and I’ve heard him speak at Hutchmoot a few times—usually on the topic of art and faith.
Art is for Everyone:
I have always loved art, but have never had the language to express what I was seeing or why I loved it. Since I’ve never taken art history and don’t have any plans to, I’ve always felt limited to just liking what I liked and keeping my feelings about it to myself—maybe writing a poem if a painting or sculpture really struck me.
What I loved about this book is that Ramsey gives you the life stories of each artist but also teaches you how to better appreciate and understand their art. He puts words to what you’re seeing and helps you understand it in a fresh, non-academic way. And he does all of this from a biblical perspective, writing in his first chapter that “Faith is a gift from God, but God is a God of means. He uses what is beautiful to quicken still hearts.” I love that the thesis of his whole book is that broken people on a broken earth can create works of beauty that quicken our hearts to see the deeper realities of life.
Plus, the three appendices at the end of the book gave me practical tips for how to visit an art museum and better understand what I’m seeing!
Sometimes in books like this, where each chapter is focused on a different person, it can be tempting to skip around or even leave chapters entirely unread. This was a no-skip book for me. The artists I love (Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Caravaggio) were well-represented and shown with fresh insight. But the artists I’d never heard of (Henry O. Tanner, Lilias Trotter) were also fascinating and made me want to go to more museums and see more paintings.
Some of the chapters I did love a little bit more—just because of my own personal connections to the artists. Ramsey’s chapter on Michelangelo opened my eyes to the staggering amount of work and talent it took to carve the David statue out of a single block of marble, and his chapter on Rembrandt made me fascinated once again by the mystery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner theft. My favorite chapter by far was the one about Van Gogh. I’ve always been drawn to Van Gogh’s art and have spent a long time reading his letters, but Ramsey’s chapter on him brought tears to my eyes several times.
I hardly ever have the time or energy to read a nonfiction book in one sitting, but I devoured Rembrandt is in the Wind on a flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas. It was enjoyable and enlightening in all the best ways, and it left me wanting to learn more about the people mentioned within its pages.
Hungry for More:
In my opinion, the best nonfiction books open your eyes to an entire world that you never knew existed before, and that’s exactly what happened with this one. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been looking at or have actually started reading and watching because of Ramsey’s book:
- This biography about Caravaggio
- This book about Vermeer’s Camera Obscura
- This work on Rembrandt that may be a little too academic for me, but we’ll see!
- This is a Robbery on Netflix—a documentary about the Isabella Stewart Gardner robbery
- Van Gogh’s letters, which I’ve been slowly reading for well over a year
All in all, Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt is in the Wind is an easy five star recommendation from me. Let me know if you read it and what you think in the comments section!