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Stradivari's Genius: Five Violins, One Cello, and Three Centuries of Enduring Perfection

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  346 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Antonio Stradivari (1644—1737) was a perfectionist whose single-minded pursuit of excellence changed the world of music. In the course of his long career in the northern Italian city of Cremona, he created more than a thousand stringed instruments; approximately six hundred survive, their quality unequalled by any subsequent violin-maker. In this fascinating book, Toby Fab ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 4th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2004)
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Fortune Calling by Hunter S. JonesDoktor Faustus by Thomas MannThe Soloist by Mark SalzmanCorelli's Mandolin by Louis de BernièresStradivari's Genius by Toby Faber
String Instruments on the Cover
5th out of 131 books — 54 voters
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan DoyleFiddler on the Roof by Joseph SteinZin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd MossA Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-PorterVirtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Violin books
74th out of 121 books — 33 voters

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Community Reviews

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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways

I just don't care. Stradivarius is dead on p59, buried next to his wife and across the street from their house, and I simply do not care.

I'm interested in the eighteenth century, and I like microhistory, and all things Italian make me smile. What is it about this book that fails to ignite my very congruent interest? I wish I knew. The writing's okay, not world-beating but not leaden or inept. The idea of tracing famous instrument-maker Stradiv
Stradivarius violins are reknown for their beauty and powerful voices. This book traces Antonio Stradivari's life, that of his children, and more importantly, the journeys made by 5 violins and 1 cello made by him. The Lipinski, the Viotti, the Messiah (which almost never was played), the Paganini and the Khevenhuller are the violins and their owners are followed and described in this book, and the Davidov, the cello currently owned and played on by YoYo Ma.

Having worked from violin designs from
First, this review is from the perspective of a lay person. I'm not a musician and while I prefer the strings over any other music family, my primary exposure is through soundtracks and YouTube (Lindsey Stirling anyone?).

I started reading this book back when it was published in 2005, found it very dry, set it on a shelf somewhere, and picked it up now 10 years later in an effort to complete a New Year's resolution to get through my old reading list.

While I found it much more readable now than I
To those who love strings music or play a string instrument, this book will be fascinating! Well-researched, anecdotal, historically rich. The author explores most of the recent theories about Stradivari's mysterious and legendary superiority as a luthier and details the creation, ownership and colorful characters associated with Stradivari's most famous instruments. Did you know that Yo-Yo Ma now owns the beloved Davidov cello?

After reading the book, I found out why the Messiah violin is so na
I picked up this book after seeing in on a friend's Goodreads list. It sounded really interesting and I was right.

Tony Faber examines the artistry of Antonio Stradivari as told by the stories of his own instruments, as they were made, as they traded hands and as they were played. Faber's narrative is quick moving and fun to read, as if he were inviting the reader along on the very journey he made in researching his subject rather than simply reporting back.

A good read (indeed) for anyone intere
Jerry Smith
I really enjoy Faber's story telling prose style. Knowing nothing about classical music in general or violin making in particular this work about Stradivari and his instruments was most enlightening and seemed to be aimed at people like me. For the more knowledgeable it would probably be pitched too simplistically.

Tells the story through 6 instruments and their history. THis is the bulk of the narrative, the life of the master himself given enough coverage but not the most important part of the
This book really came at the intersection of a few of my interests: I've long been an amateur fan of classical music, as well as an avid follower of those artisans who ruthlessly pursue perfection in their craft. This book seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more about the man behind those legendary instruments.

Faber's book follows the history of six of Stradivari's instruments, from the time of their creation to present day, delving into the history behind those individuals who have bo
David Sabala
I picked this book up on a whim. I am glad I did. For his first novel, the author does well to engage the reader in an historical journey that not only informs, but entertains. I learned so much about the chronology of the violin, and the fascinating characters in the history of music. This is a book for anyone who loves music, especially the violin.
David R.
I was surprised how interested I became in the subject. Faber ably talks the reader through instrument manufacture, what made Stravarius such a genius, and how the music world responded to his creations.
Having recently acquired my Great Grandpa's violin, I found this book very interesting. We took Gramps' violin to a little violin shop in St. Louis where Mr. Bearden told us who made it, when, and where. Amazing. But before he definitively told us the maker, he first said, "It's either an Amati or a Stainer." Knowing nothing about violins, I shrugged and said, "Is that good?" After reading this book, I have to seriously question if he was just toying with me or if he really thought it could be f ...more
Linda Hunt
I learned a lot of history, and I feel the author spent much time in research, but when I finished the book, I was tangled as to the time frames of each instrument and how they intersected. Although lots of information is provided, I felt it wasn't presented in a way that was clear. However, I will give the author another try. I have checked out his book, Faberge's Eggs, and will read that one. I really think he's a good author - just didn't quite put things in order so the facts were easy to un ...more
Beautifully written book that follows the "lives" of five violins and one cello made by Antonio Stradivarius. Includes bits on violin manufacture, biographies of the famous luthiers and musicians, and the strange world of trading in old stringed instruments. An informative and enjoyable book.
More than you could ever want to know about Stradivari and his violins. It was interesting to learn that despite using the most modern scientific investigative techniques, there is still no consensus on how Antonio Stradivari made his violins to have such a superior sound.
Probably worth a quick read for those very interested in classical music; others will likely want to skip. A brief initial section describes Stradivari's background and method of crafting instruments. This piece was moderately interesting. The remainder traces the histories of 5 or 6 (who's counting?) instruments. As these pass through the hands of various performers (e.g. Paganini), the book provides a bit of background regarding same. These meanders ranges from moderately interesting to a bit ...more
Jessica V
Much better experience this time around. Timing in when a book is picked up can make a great difference in the experience of it. And this one gained a star as a result. Anyone with even a passing or somewhat second removed connection to music and instruments might well find this of interest. Mrs. Wright might be amused at my pursual of this volume but I believe her influence may have come to bear on it as much as anything else. I owe thanks to her in part for my love of music.
Oct 23, 2012 Robin rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: music
I borrowed this book from the library on a whim to fill time waiting for another book about Leonardo da Vinci. What I was able to read of if before I had to return it was very detailed and fascinating, but a lot of the detail was sort of lost on me because I am not a violinist -- it was interesting, but would have been more meaningful, if I had more familiarity with any sort of stringed instrument. I did enjoy what I read, but have other books that are more pressing to read.
Nov 02, 2008 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
This book was fascinating. You have to be interested in strings and history to appreciate it, but I found it totally absorbing. It was great to learn about string instrument construction and all the details of shape and varnish. The book follows the history of these six instruments and their owners and that was interesting walk through history. The cello is on loan to Yo-Yo Ma and we have several recordings of him, some on that instrument, so that was fun.
2.5 stars, but I'm rounding up.
I choose this one because I was trying out my new tablet reader and this book was immediately available for download at the library.
It was interesting, but not really engaging. The format of the book was muddled and it was difficult to keep the different instruments straight, as he jumps back and forth between them. An appendix with an individual timeline for each instrument would have been helpful.
This is another of those microhistories that I loved for about half of the book, at which point all of the detail and research that I had loved initially becomes incredibly boring and tedious and I just start skimming. Faber is a good writer and his biographical sketch of Stradivari is great, and a lot of the interwoven backstory of the six instruments featured in the story is fascinating.... until it's just not interesting anymore.
I liked the half I read, and learned a lot more than I knew already on stringed instruments. We even saw one of them later on played in a concert at Pleyel! But then I just felt like fiction again. I'll get back to it, and have recommended it to Claude along with other non fiction as another way to do these things, along with the Left Bank shop that Jessica also lent us.
Faber follows the history of six of Stradivari's instruments, from the workshop through multiple owners over the past few centuries. He also discusses of the many attempts (and failures) of violin makers over the years to match Stradivari's...well, genius. Overall an engaging story and an interesting look at a world I knew almost nothing about.
Purported to be both a ribald tale of the life history of some Strad instruments, as well as a semi-scientific investigation of what makes a Strad a Strad. Came up short on both counts. Next time, we want gas cromatograph results from the lacquer, and a story where one guy stabs another guy with one of the violins.
A good quick read. The first part is more about Stradivarius and the construction. The it has a short history of specific instruments. I found this second part a bit less engaging than the first part. You might enjoy Piano by James Barron if you like the first part
This is a wonderful book and very easy to read. It gives a great history of Stradivari and why his instruments were so revolutionary and why the are still the model on which modern instruments are based. Great read, even if you aren't interested in music.
I found this book to be very readable and informative. Although it must be admitted, I have personal interest in the topic so that may sway my opinion. However, I think anyone with even a passing interest in the topic will find the book enjoyable.
Anastasia Pratt
An interesting look at the history of violin making (with a little on making violas and cellos) in Cremona. Equally interesting discussion of how a few of Stradivari's instruments have been used throughout the years.
This book is more a history of certain violins made by Antonio Stradivari than a biography of the luthier himself.

I found this book to be a difficult read despite the interest that I have in the subject of violins.
Jan 06, 2009 Rose added it
I really enjoyed this book. Interesting history about the violin family instruments and their creation, as well as following Stradivari. Also has details about the Strad known as the Messiah.
I have absolutely no musical aptitude, but this book was very approachable, and covers the lifespan of several of Stradivari's creations.
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