Top positive review
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Extremely readable account of England's greatest architect
on 15 December 2001
Tinniswood's new book is the first of a string of new biographies of Wren due out over the next few years. Tinniswood is a writer first and a historian second and he was succeeded in producing a book that is undoubtedly highly readable. The tone is, as a colleague described, positively conspiratorial and the reader is seduced into turning each of the 463 pages to find out what happens next. This is thoroughly admirable in a history book and there is no doubt that Tinniswood has succeeded in his aim of producing the most readable account of Wren's life to date. He is also extremely good at setting the scene, quoting from a wide range of sources from the period, rumour as well as fact. In view of all this it seems mean to find fault, but as people will inevitably use such a good book as a source for Wren, I think it is justified. Tinniswood himself says in the foreword that he relies heavily on the Wren Society, yet this is now out of date. Because of this his facts are unreliable and students should beware. Moreover the truth is often sacrificed at the altar of readability so that in those places where there is considerable doubt, such as Christopher's son's mental handicap, the arguments for and against are not mentioned, one side being presented as gospel. All this said if asked to recommend a single volume introduction to Wren, I would cite this one. There are few writers that have managed to capture the excitement of Wren and none are likely to be as accessible to the modern reader.