In Miniature by Simon Garfield, A Review

“We bring things down to size to understand and appreciate them.”

In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World comes to us from Simon Garfield , a journalist and non-fiction author, who writes on a variety of topics.

In Miniature is a deep dive into the significant miniatures of history, organized into chapters by miniature type.

I’ve said before that I’ve releaved myself of this topic, of why the world loves miniatures. I, at one point, felt an immense furvor, to discover the precise reason why this seems to be such a constant phenomenon. And the answers are right in front of our noses – miniatures serve for learning in childhood, give us a sense of scale, provide nostalgia, and allow us control. And even with this fervent sense emptied from me, I felt it my duty, as a purveyor of the miniature world, to check out Garfield’s new book.

I’m, what I assumed was, the exact audience for this book, and yet due to my substantial research into this topic, prior to the release of the book, I’m a bit burnt out on the topic and had trouble getting through the pages.

You see, while Garfield weaves together the history of miniatures in what seems an attempt at an an easy to digest, story-like tale so that we can all discover miniature magic together. The problem with the long-winded descriptions of various miniature items, is that these things are meant to be seen. The black and white chapter intro image of some doesn’t do them justice, and Garfield in turn doesn’t offer much insight as to why they’re so ingrained in our culture (which I assume in part was the purpose of this book due to its subtitle).

To get an idea of the number of topics covered, see the full index in the gallery below.

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“A miniature, even a miniature that reaches the ceiling, is a souvenir in physical form, a commemoration of our own tiny imprint on the planet.”

Miniatures, as with all art forms, reflect the time in which they are made. Even if I were to make a miniature Victorian cabinet today, in 2019, there would be a newness to it, and a back story as to why I, a modern day human, decided to focus on that of a no longer existent world. I say this, because Garfield asserts “The golden age of modeling has not passed, but the golden age of pleasantness probably has.” To which he follows with the example of Jimmy Caughty’s The Aftermath, a miniature scene of 5000 police officers, numerous media members, and an overall downtrodden feel. I would continue to argue however, that we make miniatures, as we make all art, things that reflect what we feel, and if a miniaturist is upset by the state of the world why shouldn’t they make a piece reflecting that? That’s not to say that miniaturists aren’t also making pleasant pieces, and pieces that fall somewhere in the in between.

While I can’t say I’ve learned anew (aside from some of the individualized miniature accounts), Garfield’s way with words illuminates the miniature world in a way I cannot. And presuming the average mini enthusiast is without the penchant for intensive research, this book instead lays the info out for you.

And overall, maybe this book isn’t for me at all. I like miniatures, see their value, and know their bits of history that appeal to me. Maybe instead, this book is to convince non-mini enthusiasts of the historical significance of miniatures and the wonders they hold.

“Perhaps it has always been the miniature’s movement. The power and the influence of the miniature in our lives has been constant and immense.”

Have you read In Miniature, or do you plan to? What are your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “In Miniature by Simon Garfield, A Review

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  1. Just reserved it at the library! Thanks!
    And thanks to him, I guess, for the heads-up on Jimmy Cauty. Amazing work!

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