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Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture Hardcover – October 1, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0802713667 ISBN-10: 0802713661

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802713661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802713667
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (213 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Filippo Brunelleschi's design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of more than 140 feet exceeds St Paul's in London and St Peter's in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington, D.C., making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but "hot-tempered" creator is told in Ross King's delightful Brunelleschi's Dome.

Both dome and architect offer King plenty of rich material. The story of the dome goes back to 1296, when work began on the cathedral, but it was only in 1420, when Brunelleschi won a competition over his bitter rival Lorenzo Ghiberti to design the daunting cupola, that work began in earnest. King weaves an engrossing tale from the political intrigue, personal jealousies, dramatic setbacks, and sheer inventive brilliance that led to the paranoid Filippo, "who was so proud of his inventions and so fearful of plagiarism," finally seeing his dome completed only months before his death. King argues that it was Brunelleschi's improvised brilliance in solving the problem of suspending the enormous cupola in bricks and mortar (painstakingly detailed with precise illustrations) that led him to "succeed in performing an engineering feat whose structural daring was without parallel." He tells a compelling, informed story, ranging from discussions of the construction of the bricks, mortar, and marble that made up the dome, to its subsequent use as a scientific instrument by the Florentine astronomer Paolo Toscanelli. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly

Walker was the hardcover publisher of Dava Sobel's sleeper smash, Longitude, and Mark Kurlansky's steady-seller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. This brief, secondary source-based account is clearly aimed at the same lay science-cum-adventure readership. British novelist King (previously unpublished in the U.S.) compiles an elementary introduction to the story of how and why Renaissance Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) designed and oversaw the construction of the enormous dome of Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore cathedralAdesigning its curves so that they needed no supporting framework during construction: a major Renaissance architectural innovation. Illustrated with 26 b&w period prints, the book contains 19 chapters, some very brief. Although the result is fast moving and accessible, King overdoes the simplicity to the point that the book appears unwittingly as if it was intended for young adults. (Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo, for example, "took a dim view of marriage and women.") This book feels miles away from its actual characters, lacking the kind of dramatic flourish that would bring it fully to life. Despite direct quotes from letters and period accounts, the "would have," "may have" and "must have" sentences pile up. Still, the focus on the dome, its attendant social and architectural problems, and the solutions improvised by Brunelleschi provide enough inherent tension to carry readers along. (Oct. 23)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Ross King is the author of the bestselling Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling, as well as the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. He lives in England, near Oxford.

Customer Reviews

This book is clearly written and is a enjoyable read.
Tony Lee
I enjoyed the various stories and the way he combined politics and religion of the era.
Kevin Brianton
It remains the largest dome ever constructed using traditional materials.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 142 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Like Longitude, one of my most favorite books, Brunelleschi's Dome is a small gem. Author Ross King tells the story of the building of the dome atop Santa Marie del Fiore in Florence and along the way, treats you to a rich slice of Renaissance history. Much more than a great story (filled with details about everyday life in 15th century Italy, i.e. what they were eating, how they shopped, how bricks were made) this is a story of a man who used his intuition, faith and genius to propose a revolutionary method of building this famous dome. He used no wooden centering or flying buttresses which was totally radical for the time and he really had no way of predicting whether his plan would work or not. But it did and beautifully. If you're planning on visiting Florence, climb the steps to the top of the dome to see Brunelleschi's handiwork first hand. For example, he and his bricklayers used a unique herringbone pattern when laying the bricks that is clearly visible today. The story is also a human story. All the naysayers, competitiors, political enemies are here along with backbiting, and plotting. Brunelleschi himself had a wily streak and wasn't above lashing out at his competitors. One of the joys of this book is you actually feel like you're getting up each morning to see a day's work on the dome. And it's a very enjoyable way to spend some time. If you're interested, you can visit [...] and get a live view from atop the dome in Florence. A fascinating book.
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92 of 94 people found the following review helpful By John Campbell on December 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You'd think it was scarcely possible to write yet another book on Renaissance Florence, and yet produce something fresh, original and illuminating. But Ross King has done exactly this - and what's more he's chosen as his subject one of the most familiar, most studied - and most visited - buildings in Europe, Florence cathedral. Every guidebook says that Brunelleschi designed the dome, or cupola, of the cathedral, and that it's the biggest masonry dome ever built. But to learn how it was built, you normally have to turn to some pretty specialised works of art history. Ross King has drawn on these. But he goes much further, and brings the Florence of the first half of the fifteenth century, and especially the people engaged in building the great cathedral, tremendously to life. Brunelleschi himself is portrayed as an argumentative and moody man, with no doubts of his own importance. But he also emerges as one of the most imaginative and daring architects and engineers of any era. His dome is shown to be not just an artistic triumph, and one of the defining structures of Western architecture, but also a technical masterpiece, studied by architects to this day. In many ways this book reminds one of Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter". The style is very different, and Ross King writes of Florence two hundred years before Galileo, but in taking such an original and captivating look at an apparently familiar subject, "Brunelleschi's Dome" stands comparison. Certainly if you enjoyed one, you'll like the other.
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73 of 77 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has been to the ancient Italian city of Florence recognizes the big dome that dominates the city. It is atop the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, and is larger than the dome of the US Capitol, St. Paul's in London, or even St. Peter's in Rome. It was built before any of them, in 1436. The architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, solved many problems to produce the wonder. He did away with any central scaffold on which to build the dome, and his design for such machines as an ox-powered hoist were innovative and useful. 70 million pounds of brick, mortar, marble, and more were hoisted into the air. The dome gradually rose, while below it were plagues, wars, jealous arguments against Brunelleschi, and financial problems. The book is exciting as it traces the progress of the dome, and it brings out the personality of Brunelleschi well. It gives details of Renaissance life, such as guilds, food, transportation, and brickmaking. Fascinating.
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Paul Frandano on May 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
The title of a non-fiction book should be a contract: here, the terms of Ross King's deal are, "I will tell you all you ever wanted to know about the great dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, and, as specified in the subtitle, I will leave you feeling you know how Brunelleschi 'reinvented architecture.'"
I enjoyed this book immensely, but King delivered on neither clause. I found myself puzzling over his technical explanations, rummaging through my library for a superior cutaway of the dome to better visualize his wordy exegesis. Oddly, each of the three well-known books I turned to - Murray's Architecture of the Italian Renaissance, Kostof's History of Architecture, and Hartt's History of Italian Renaissance Art - had precisely the same superb cutaway of the dome within a dome, showing Brunelleschi's Gothic vaulting underneath the classically inspired outer dome. "Mirabile dictu, so that's it!" This is only one of many instances where King created confusion where he might have parted the technical mists, with clearer text or with a better mating of text to illustration.
A corollary to this concern: for a book that has a fair number of illustrations, I found these, for the most part, woefully chosen. I appreciated the reproductions of period etchings and drawings, but these should have been supplemented with additional helps for the text. And at the very close, as a veritable punchline to the short book, King provides one small photograph of the dome in middle distance - no angles, no details, no close-up of the lantern, no full-page, no color. For readers who have neither been to Florence and seen the magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore in its urban context nor seen many illustrations or aspects of the dome, these are galling omissions.
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