Literature Review: “Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture”


Title: Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
Author: Ross King

Originally Published: May 30, 2000

Genre: Non-fiction

Best Feature: Not your typical dry and narrative-lacking non-fiction.

Worst Feature: If you went to see the Duomo without reading the book first, it will give you pangs of sadness that you couldn’t truly appreciate its glory without a proper understanding.

*Image courtesy of Amazon.

*Image courtesy of Amazon.

Before we delve into it, here are a few of my own photographs of the magnificent Duomo and views from its apex.

While I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Ross King’s works of fiction, his first work of non-fiction is definitely worth the read.  Despite now being thirteen years old, Renaissance history hasn’t changed much, making this a still relevant and enjoyable work of non-fiction.  It’s true that I love fiction, but sometimes I feel the need to add a little bit of new knowledge to my life.  I always hope to do this in a painless and entertaining way, making this book the perfect read.

I wanted to read this book before traveling to Florence this summer, however, I told myself I was only going to bring one physical book and put the rest of my reading on my Kindle, and at the time there was no Kindle version to be found.  I happened to find a copy in my brother’s library about a month after returning, and immediately picked the book up.  While it can be architecturally and mathematically a little dense at times, it’s a fairly easy read and probably took me about a week to get through the 200 or so pages.  And frankly, after I was done, I found myself wanting to learn more.

The beauty of “Brunelleschi’s Dome” is that it brings to life the process of building the dome itself, and several of Brunelleschi’s other important works.  The book takes the time to describe the social and political context of building the dome, giving it greater depth and meaning than a book simply about the architecture.  But more than that, King dares to explain difficult and complex architectural concepts to the common reader.  I’m amazed at the way he does this, allowing even someone with no architectural background to grasp the complexity of designing and engineering the largest dome ever built out of brick and mortar.

My only regret is not reading this before visiting the Duomo atop Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy.  If you’ve ever had the chance to climb (huffing and puffing) the 463 steps to the top, you might have noticed between breaths the intricate designs within the brick.  In reading “Brunelleschi’s Dome”, you begin to realize the importance of these seemingly decorative designs.  What might have been more noticeable was the fact that you were in between two domes—an inner and outer shell, which allow the dome to exist.  These are only a few of the important engineering feats that allow the dome to still stand today, despite traffic, earthquakes, and all matter of natural elements.

While I won’t ruin the surprising details of this design for you, I encourage you to take this with you on the plane to Florence, or if you just need an educational escape into the world of Renaissance Italy for a while.

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