This intriguing study of our urge to make scale models is full of bizarre stories and poignant insight ... engaging and exhuberant ... In Miniature reads like an upmarket Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and I did keep having to search the internet to make sure Garfield wasn’t fantasising ... Sometimes I paused just to marvel at a fact, or the implications thereof ... The moral seems to be that we’re all small, relatively speaking, which is perhaps why In Miniature is not only highly entertaining; it is also moving.
Garfield, whose range of critical reference is equally wide (taking in WG Sebald, Walter Benjamin and Simon Armitage), is fascinating and often funny about why miniatures exert such a hold ... As a (scaled-down) book, In Miniature is a well-built, highly polished entity. It is full of evocative sentences ... what he also shows in abundance is the sympathetic understanding of the needs and travails of 'ordinary' people ... And he sees how, above all, miniatures are a celebration of human ingenuity for its own sake, and of the myriad ways in which we try to access our capacity – and slake our need – for wonder.
[Garfield] turns his relaxed, fireside-chatty tone (and a sprinkling of puns) to the human fascination with not size, but scale. In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World is a charming collage of historical vignettes and commentary, wandering from tiny volumes and flea circuses to miniature railroads, both the hugely commercial layouts and the private escapes of such enthusiasts as Rod Stewart, Neil Young and Roger Daltrey (rock stars and railroading—who knew?).
...flea circuses, model railways, replica warships made of spent matches, Victorian dioramas — only a writer with Simon Garfield’s versatility could get them all into one book, and only a writer with his boundless curiosity would want to ... Garfield is at his best in unearthing relatively unknown labourers in the miniature modelling mill ... A worry for readers is that Garfield sometimes seems sick of his subject. His chapter on model villages is almost as boring as model villages ... Meanwhile important subjects are missed ... Even the great Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard gets only a sentence or two. Of course, a book like this cries out for colour plates, and the smudgy photos on offer are no substitute ... Also absent are dolls, though they have a fascinating history. Perhaps Garfield feels unfitted, as a man, to write about them ... Fortunately, people continue to interest him even when his subject palls. The accounts of miniaturists at work bump us out of toy-town into reality.
[Garfield] turns his attention to models and miniatures and other small things that grab and reward our attention ... As much history as the author provides, he seems even more interested in human psychology: Why would someone spend so much time and effort to construct something that is ultimately without purpose, and why would others flock to see it? Garfield devotes a lot of attention to the ideal of order in a world of chaos while recognizing that the obsession can seem insane ... Another entertaining book from Garfield.