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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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I am reviewing the Kindle version, although the book remains clear and worthwhile the illustrations in the Kindle version are somewhat perfunctory.

This book really is an object lesson in crafting a clear and compelling narrative, showing a real mastery of some very challenging material. Even with limited illustrations I always felt able to visualise the necessary details. Although the book is centred on the eye catching and remarkable Dome (even more remarkable when you learn more about it), and Brunnelleschi, it also covers Florence of that era, making it sound absolutely fascinating. It makes a convincing case for Brunnelleschi being fully the equal of Da Vinci or Michelangelo in the breadth of his achievements.

This is the sort of book that deserves to win every award going, it really is that good.
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on 16 March 2017
Excellent book. Prompt delivery
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on 20 May 2017
Great book!
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on 8 May 2017
Fast paced and informative it balances the technology with the story perfectly. The explanations were understandable with resort to over simplification or reliance on in depth specialist knowledge. Unlike me read before a visit,not after!
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on 8 July 2016
Having read through this book, it is unclear if the book is about architecture or a biography of the architect / engineer, Brunelleschi, who built the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Judging by the title, I expect the former, but it seems to me that the book hovers between the two and ends up serving neither. While I understand from the book the technical difficulties in building the dome, I do not gain the same level of understanding and in turn appreciation of the technical ingenuity of Brunelleschi's solution. How the solution actually works remains a mystery to someone who is not scientifically trained. This is unsatisfactory to me.

The rest of the "story of the Great Cathedral in Florence" reads a bit disjointed; I found myself asking if I was reading frequent digressions. The end was a bit rush. We were reading of delays and things went from bad to worse and suddenly we jumped to the chapter on the consecration of the cathedral. I am also intrigued if the maintenance of the cathedral over the past five hundred years - are there any structural weakness that tests today's engineers to save it like the tower in Pisa? It is mentioned in the book that the dome was built over an underground river. Does it have any implication on the cathedral?

What the book has done for me is that it has sketched an outline for me what to look for concerning the dome with the timeline, names of the key players and technical difficulties. But to appreciate both Brunelleschi as a genius and the wonders of the cathedral better, I feel I have to follow up on other sources.
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on 16 April 2000
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 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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on 8 November 2009
Brunelleschi's Dome
I had thought about buying this book for some time, and finally took the plunge. Although it is only a short book, it is filled with detail and clear that the author had thoroughly researched the book prior to writing. However, despite all of this I did find it hard going, and this, is possibly because I have never visited Florence and so was not as familiar as I could be with the subject of the book. I have since given the book to someone else who thoroughly enjoyed the book but who was more knowledgeable about the area and history of Florence than myself.

For a book about the architecture and construction of such an iconic building it seemed surprisingly short of pictures, more of which may have helped in the understanding of the text. I also felt I would have liked to have known more about the man who masterminded the building of the dome - but perhaps there was not much more to tell about someone who made such a massive undertaking his life's work.

Overall, an interesting read, but, as already suggested by an earlier review, perhaps is best appreciated by those who are already familiar with the subject matter.
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This is a good book on a fascinating subject: the construction of a church dome that surpassed in size Hadrian's Pantheon in Rome, the one that stood for about 1300 years as a marvel of the world. Brunelleschi was certainly a genius for accomplishing this, and his "record of largest" stood until the 20C, when new materials enabled architects to develop in altogether different directions.

The core of the story is that Brunelleschi, as an exemplar of the early Renaissance, studied the Roman examples and then experimented in ways that allowed him to surpass them. Technically speaking, he also solved the problem of the large dome - designed over a century earlier without a clear means of executing it - by reinventing architectural engineering.

It was here that the book began to lose me. King goes into excruciating detail about Brunelleschi's avoidance of "centering" - the construction of a temporary wooden scaffold for support inside the dome, which would have used far too much of one of the most valued commodties of the era, hard wood - via the construction of a new pulley system to raise the stones (which occupies an entire chapter), and other innovations that may interest only very serious students of architecture. Furthermore, there are pages of descriptions of the type of bricks he used and even custom-designed to fit the geometry of the dome as it tapered (yes, he describes their geometric shapes as in a catalogue). Even worse, I did not always find his technical descriptions very clear, and had to re-read them to get it, sometimes more than once.

Moreover, King goes into a lot of biographical territory that is neither documented nor known even from hearsay. So the book is peppered with phrases like "he must have thought", "he must have realized", "he must have resented" etc. That makes this bio too speculative for me, lacking in academic discipline. Brunelleschi was a difficult character with lots of enemies and mysteries about him, of course, but we just don't know enough about his machinations to say much that is definitive - so if you don't have something that proves, or directly indicates, that he thought/felt one way of the other, any interpretation that seeks to characterise it is the stuff of fiction.

That being said, King knows both the technical details and the larger historical context, and most of the time he can express his thoughts well, even with evocative style that reflects a genuine writing talent. So in a turn of phrase that is marvellously dense and masterfully accurate, he evokes this or that trait of the early Renaissance and what it means. You get the politics, science, and art that are evolving, as well as the techniques of war and even transportation. This is a great pleasure and kept me going. (This is personal in that I was looking more for trends and context than technical engineering details and other readers may enjoy the latter more.)

Recommended. I learned a lot from this book, but it draged in its technical detail. Nonetheless, this is a writer to watch.
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on 15 July 2001
as a modern day consultant working on large projects, I found this book very uplifting. Things haven't changed too much! As a regular visitor to Italy it enhanced my knowledge of one of the great wonders. This is a novel, a history book, a study in human nature; it is amusing, enlightening and intellectually sound.
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on 1 September 2004
This is a really excellent read, both in its description of the construction of the dome and in the way it adds colour to both Brunelleschi and the rest of contemporary Florence. The only criticism I would have of the text is that some of the technical descriptions of how the dome was built are difficult to follow - I found myself having to read them two or three times before I understood what the author was getting at. And the book would really benefit from more, and better, illustrations - a large format version of the book with proper colour photographs and plans would be great.
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