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.
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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."
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