[A] thoughtful book on why we need Ruskin now. A management columnist at the Financial Times, Hill writes with the fervour of a convert... Hill is too scrupulous to gloss over the contradictions in Ruskin’s thoughts, and one of the leitmotifs of his engaging exploration of “Ruskinland” is the disjunction between what Ruskin advocated and what the numerous entities bearing his name practise nowadays. For example, many of the schools named after Ruskin show only the most fleeting association with his ideas or writings, the latter being deemed “unreadable for most people” by one innovative educator... As Hill concedes, “Ruskinland” is now mainly occupied by “academics and the occasional oddball”, but if his quest proved too elusive, the journey was well worth it. The issues with which Ruskin struggled were large ones and remain vital today.
The problem was, in part, that he was so various. Even the many expressly Ruskin-influenced institutions that Hill runs to ground here — from Oxford’s school of art to a Brick Lane furniture business and a designer handbag outlet — tend to pick and choose from the congenial parts of his contradictory legacy. And so does Hill: zipping back and forth and giving, in this shortish book, not so much a complete picture of the man as a series of illuminating glimpses, like one of his subject’s travelling sketchbooks... Hill’s is an eccentric and sometimes an irritating book — but its central emphasis upon Ruskin’s injunction that we labour to see clearly what’s actually in front of us, and to see the connections between those things, makes the case for its subject. It’s a glimpse into a vast and marvellous and now little travelled country, and for that alone it earns its place on the shelf.