This is a very enjoyable book, unpicking the coded messages in Holbein's great masterpiece and enriching our knowledge not only of the painting but of the whole nature of educated society at the time. It is without doubt the product of many years of scholarship, and the author's conclusion - that the particular choice and arrangement of not only the objects on the table, but the clothing, background and even the decorative stone pavement upon which the subjects stand, have all been calculated to indicate the identities of the sitters, their mission and the precise time and day which the painting records - is hard to dispute. This is undoubtedly the sort of thing a painter of Holbein's skills would have revelled in.
So why only four stars? Despite my respect for the author's scholarship and my admiration of the arguments, this could have been a better book. Notes apart, there are 386 pages of text, and some genteel editing could have made this book both more concise, and the arguments easier to follow. Some of the calculations and geometry are rather demanding, and the diagrams explaining them are too small, too fuzzily printed and too poorly annotated to be understood without a great deal of head scratching. More and better quality illustrations would be also very desirable; I found myself reading with a coffee-table format book Hans Holbein der Jungere (Masters of German art)
open beside me.
Still, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Holbein, in the history of science, or in the Tudor court, who doesn't mind doing a bit of hard thinking along the way. Interested readers should, if in Oxford, visit the Museum of the History of Science, which has original polyhedral sundials and other instruments, including a polyhedral sundial by Nicholas Kratzer, like those seen in the picture.