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On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life and Tumultuous Times of Sir Christopher Wren Paperback – February 3, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is the second biography of Wren (1632-1723) to appear in the last year, following Adrian Tinniswood's His Invention So Fertile (Oxford). Renaissance scholar Jardine (Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution, etc.) takes the cultural historical tack that has brought her scholarly renown, providing not only a nearly day-by-day account of the polymathic British architect's most important moments but minutely detailed background on institutions like the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory (along with the Order of the Garter), on developing science (blood transfusion, longitude) and on people: the royal families, Robert Hooke, John Evelyn. Wren was appointed to the Rebuilding Commission established after the devastating Great Fire of London in 1666, becoming in time responsible for the design and rebuilding of all 51 churches destroyed by the fire, and for the reconstruction of St. Paul's. By the time Wren came to that work by which he is best known, he had already achieved enormous distinction as a scientist, inventor and mathematician-and he was 34 years old. By 1689, he was at work renovating Hampton Court Palace for William and Mary, the third royal family he had served; in their reign, he was appointed surveyor of Westminster Abbey in 1698, a post he held until his death. To stick with Jardine requires a serious interest in Wren and period history. The rich documentation-the full text of private and public papers (e.g., letters of patent, royal warrants, correspondence, receipts, marginalia, excerpts from diaries) and 80 b&w illustrations and a 16-page color insert-may dizzy the reader who is not intimate with 17th century prose style, but will astonish those who are. And Jardine's discovery of an underground chamber in the Monument to the Great Fire is something any amateur sleuth will enjoy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This engrossing biography charts Wren's trajectory from mathematical prodigy who invented transparent beehives and a copying machine to England's greatest architect, who rebuilt much of London—most famously St. Paul's Cathedral—after the Great Fire of 1666. Wren later claimed to regard all enterprises involving stone and mortar as "rubbish," and was prouder of his work as an astronomer and anatomist. His extraordinary versatility and industry give Jardine the opportunity to examine the political and scientific constellations of Restoration England. Such is her feel for the subject that, when she sees a long-forgotten basement room directly underneath Wren's Monument to the Great Fire, she immediately realizes that it is a laboratory—that the building was designed not only as a monument but also as a multipurpose scientific instrument, including "a zenith telescope, with lenses at ground and upper-platform levels."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006095910X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060959104
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who visits London will have pointed out to them "a Wren church." This biography of the 17th century architect Christopher Wren explains why that is. It seems the world produced at least one genius who was not a bully, a cad or a drunk. Living until his 90s, Wren worked to the end and transformed a great city in a way few men ever do. Read this as the antidote to all those biographies of talent in people who made better animals than human.
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Wren was a child prodigy in 17th century England. He shifted from astronomy,medical field, art,mathmatics,and most of his life as a architect rebuilding London after fire destroyed a large portion of the city. Wren lived with civil wars , plagues, invasions from other countries,but also a revival of new ideas in all facets of life. Wren the man was in the English aristocracy with several others worked directly with the Kings of England ,because he outlived so many of them. This is,a fascinating book to read ,and Jardine explains Wrens life as a person that always wants to do more than just expected.
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There are numerous biographies available on Christopher Wren. These range from the relatively brief, bu informative, ones to this, which is dense and scholarly. Lisa Jardine has done a superb job of research. Although one reviewer objected to the quotes which are used lavishly, I found them to be pertinent and very helpful. The illustrations also are quite excellent.

I recommend this book for anyone who wishes a comprehensive, scholarly biography of Christopher Wren.
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Format: Hardcover
Fine, scholarly work that nicely documents and sheds much light on an extraordinary individual, as well as on his times and many contemporaries. Yes, a bit tedious at times for those of us who are not scholars. A part of me wished that the substance might have come in fewer pages, with more of the detail reserved for notes or appendices, although I appreciate that might have stripped flavor from the bones. While I do not for the most part favor "psychological" biographies, I think that I would have welcomed a bit more about the man, Chistopher Wren, as well as the context and his accomplishments. I admit that some of Jardine's other efforts have done better at hooking me and keeping me reading. Still: Informative, interesting and well-written.
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Format: Hardcover
"reader if you require a monument, look around you" (inscription of the plaque at Wren's tomb)
Sir Christopher Wren was born to a life of privilege that evaporated when Charles I was deposed. His father was Order of the Garter. Suddenly his family was in danger of losing life as well as property. These were Wren's student years. During this period Wren became pragmatic, and he survived.
It was the Restoration of Charles II to the throne of England that restored the fortunes of the Wren family. Too late for the father, but at precisely the right moment for the son. Charles II restored the monarchy, and restored the fortunes of Wren. The Restoration was an extraordinary period.
Wren was a Renaissance man, best known for his architecture, in particular St. Paul's Cathedral. But Wren also "mapped moons and the trajectories of comets" He "pursued astronomy and medicine during two civil wars."
This is a scholarly biography, and not light beach reading. Lisa Jardine's 85 pages of notes and an eighteen page bibliography may give some insight into how seriously she has taken her subject. On a Grander Scale is a detailed report on a fascinating time in England's history and one of the men that made it so. It is well done, accurate, and intellectually stimulating.
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Christopher Wren, didn't he rebuild St. Paul's after the Great Fire. Yes, he did that--and rebuilt all those parish churches too. We all know that.
But, who knew that is father was the Dean of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and, in that capacity hid the records of the Order of the Garter during the Cromwell period?
Who knew that he helped to found the Royal Society (for the advancement of science)? That he was at one time a professor of astronomy.
In an age where half those born did not reach their first birthday, Christopher Wren, lived to be 91 years old. His achievements were monumental (pun intended) but they want far beyond the architecture we know about (which in his old age he referred to as "rubbish").
His was an astounding life. This book is well researched and superbly written. After reading this one, I went out and bought the author's life of Jane Austen (of course from Amazon).
Kudo's to the author and you all go out and buy (and read) this one!
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