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Brunelleschi's Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  15,956 Ratings  ·  588 Reviews
Even in an age of soaring skyscrapers and cavernous sports stadiums, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, with its immense, terracotta-tiled cupola, still retains a rare power to astonish. Yet the elegance of the building belies the tremendous labour, technical ingenuity and bitter personal strife involved in its creation. For over a century after work on th ...more
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Published February 1st 2001 by Pimlico (first published January 1st 2000)
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Kalliope
Feb 16, 2016 Kalliope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition



This is an account of how the monument that human ingenuity could build to itself came into being.

During the 13C the prosperous Florence deemed that its small Cathedral needed more than just more repairs. Santa Reparata was then demolished and a new and considerably larger building was commissioned to Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect who had already designed other pleasing churches in the city. The new Cathedral would also drop its no longer suitable old name and take on the radiant designation
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Ted
added some photos

I read this book about a year before six of us traveled to Italy. A fantastic book from engineering, history of the Renaissance, and history of architecture viewpoints. Having read the book, I knew we had to visit Florence and climb up to the top of il Duomo. I spent many weeks before we left walking up and down two flights of stairs in our house to prepare myself. It was a wonderful experience, a great view from up there (the Duomo that is, not the top of my stairs).

If you ever
...more
Will Byrnes
Updated July 17, 2013 - added image and links

At the height of the Renaissance in Florence a competition was announced. The cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore had been under construction for more than a century, but no one knew how to construct the massive dome that was called for in the original design, a design from which the city rulers were loathe to depart. The task was widely considered impossible, but Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and clockmaker, submitted a construction plan that was br
...more
Monica
Dec 23, 2010 Monica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Monica by: Francesca
Shelves: history
(Nov '08)-Have to put this aside, have to cram on South America...Dec. '10-- Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, by Ross King, was scholarly, yet had a lighter touch than most art history dissertations. It was even a best seller. Extremely well researched, it details the competition and execution of the building of the dome of the cathedral in Florence, an architectural and artistic accomplishment few understand. The scope King gives us, although at times heavi ...more
Amie
Aug 09, 2010 Amie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book about the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It talks about Filippo Brunelleschi, and his absolute genius in constructing a dome that spans 140 feet, without any sort of supporting framework. He solved each problem as it arose, and even invented a lot of the machinery and equipment he needed.

It is amazing to me that a good portion of the duomo had been built before there was even a call for plans to construct the dome. Still more amazing that Brunelleschi's a
...more
Lucy
Mar 22, 2011 Lucy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gee, when I was younger, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I didn't pursue it because I knew I was terrible at math. What I didn't take into account was my complete lack of physics knowledge. After reading this book, I know I made the right decision.
There is A LOT of description of pulleys, machines, construction, etc.. I didn't understand most of it. I felt like an idiot. I was determined to persevere and finish slogging through this book. I did it, but not without falling asleep MANY time
...more
Ruth
Oct 09, 2010 Ruth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dof-didnotfinish, art
This one's going back to the library unfinished. I'd heard so often that it was good. Though my MFA is in Painting, I did teach a year long Art History survey course, so I've even lectured on the darn dome. And I've always been interested in architecture.

But I am 75 years old and I don't have time to waste on books I'm not enjoying. This one is so poorly written I can't believe it got the good reviews it did.

The writing is plodding and awkward. The author introduces technical/architectural terms
...more
Teresa
Sep 03, 2007 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the first half of the book much more interesting than the second half: the innovation in the architecture of the dome held much more narrative interest in than the chapters on the various machines invented in order to construct the thing. Although it has been several years since I read the book, I do also recall being vaguely disappointed with the ending: The Dome Goes Up! Still, an incredibly interesting portrait of the convergence of many sciences in this beautiful masterpiece.
Lewis Weinstein
When you stand in the Duomo in Florence and look up, even though you know the dome has been there for over 5 centuries, it's still hard to believe it stays in place. It's even harder to imagine how it was constructed - without supporting scaffolding. Read this book and you will understand, not only the construction but also the nature of the Renaissance civilization that encouraged and financed such a miracle.

Nigel
Oct 08, 2013 Nigel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
What an unexpected little treat this was. An account of the building of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Begun in 1296 and completed in 1436, the dome itself took nearly a quarter of a century to construct, and even when it was initially designed regarded as potentially impossible to construct, the original designers essentially shrugging their shoulders and hoping God would provide. Provision came in the form of bad-tempered genius Filippo Brunelleschi, master gol ...more
Alex
Cool little book. Not exactly crucial to anything, but it gives some nice flavor of life in the early Renaissance, and of the return of architecture - and at 167 pages, it's only an afternoon's commitment anyway. David Macaulay's Cathedral would be an excellent companion read, and I found it useful to refer to this big-ass picture of the dome from time to time.
Eric_W
Nov 14, 2008 Eric_W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Filippo Brunelleschi is best known for his design of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Apparently, he was an unkempt and cantankerous old goldsmith and sculptor, very paranoid and suspicious of his fellow artisans - even for fifteenth-century Florence. But it was not just the design for which he deserves accolades. The manner by which he proposed to erect the dome was so radical that he was labeled a madman. Even more startling was that he refused to reveal the deta ...more
Florence Millo
Feb 22, 2012 Florence Millo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the building of the dome on Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy over a period of 28 years by Filippo Brunelleschi.

In August, 1418 a competition was held to determine who would design and construct the dome on the cathedral which had been under construction for over a century. The dome was considered by many to be impossible because it would span 143 feet. It is still the largest dome in the world. The winner of that competition was the goldsmith and clockmaker, Filippo
...more
Ralph
Nov 09, 2011 Ralph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book centers on the construction of the "Duomo" - Santa Maria del Fiore and its engineering genius Filippo Brunelleschi. The architectural challenges and solutions, the politics and the competition surrounding the construction of this marvel makes for a good read. However, the best thing about this book, by far, is that it captures the spirit, creativeness, and problem-solving capability of the people of the Renaissance. "Pippo" Brunelleschi not only changed construction engineering forever, ...more
Sandra
Jan 16, 2012 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dale
Recommended to Sandra by: Lew
Shelves: history
In addition to learning about dome building, (which I really hadn't considered the difficulties of previously,) the first several chapters continued to enlighten me on what it was like to live in the 14th and 15th centuries. The plague was a constant population thinner. You worked, if you were lucky, 14-16 hours a day, 6 days a week. No benefits. they did bury you for free if you fell to your death. Sorry for digressing, back to the focus of the booki..........The question still seems to be unan ...more
Jason Golomb
I'm no engineer and I only vaguely understand the basic tenets of architecture. But I'm a great admirer of history and have tremendous appreciation for the significance of milestone art and architecture. So in advance of an upcoming trip to Florence, I picked up Ross King's "Brunelleschi's Dome", assuming that King would do as good a job with this seminal Renaissance creation as he did with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in "Michelangelo & The Pope's Ceiling". The book is thorough and enjoyab ...more
Ahsan
Oct 15, 2013 Ahsan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should we read the book first or experience a work of art first? Should I have read this book before I climbed the dome a little over a month ago (Sep 2013), or was it better to experience it unprejudiced?

I'd reckon the latter. To know the details of its construction, I think, could have distracted my eye from the beauty of the whole. Although, I would still had the same punch to the gut upon reaching the top and seeing Florence spread out before me... ah, bliss. But had I read the book first, I
...more
Dvora
At first I found it seriously boring, but when I gave myself to read through the technical parts without worrying about understanding it all, I began to enjoy it more. The Dome was an incredible and extremely interesting project to read about, and Bruneslleschi was clearly a genius. King alluded to some kind of crisis and the downfall of our hero, but they all turned out to be minor setbacks in his career than actual downfalls. This was misleading and a bit annoying. But overall, because of the ...more
Heather
Oct 27, 2010 Heather rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, architecture
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mike
Jul 25, 2011 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
A wonderful tale of how Florence became the pre-eminent city of the western world and dragged Europe out of the Dark Ages. Brunelleschi, an arrogant and easily dislikeable architect and artist, seeks to complete one of the greatest structures man had ever created - the Santa Maria del Fiore - which had lain roofless for decades awaiting just such a man. The politics, intrigue and personal rivalry between those who sought fame and riches by completing the project are magnificently woven together ...more
LuAnn
Feb 16, 2009 LuAnn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up at a used bookstore. It is a historical account of the planning and execution of the dome in Florence. Lots of engineering details. I plan to climb to the top of that dome this summer and I will be able to see the innovative engineering skills of Brunelleschi from the inside stair well. Can't wait. Best of all this book is a good companion to the novel "Pillars of the Earth" since it has lots of references to building cathedrals. I plan to read Ross King's book about St. Peter's ...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Fascinating read -- this one sat on my TBR pile for at least 10 years, which was at least 10 years too long. This one was interesting on so many levels -- the architecture, the engineering involved in creating a dome 30% larger than the White House but in the 1400's, the politics, the drama between the artists involved -- there was a lot going on here. I did have to spend some time in Google while reading because I didn't know many of the architecture terms -- and now this book is off my TBR lis ...more
bup
Mar 03, 2015 bup rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2015
This really made me appreciate the enormity of what the construction of a large dome was, in the time before internal combustion engines.

While occasionally there were sections that a not-mechanically-minded person like myself could only read 8 times, nod and pretend I understood, like
In this experiment the capomaestro used a cane that was fixed at one end and "circled upwards, gradually narrowing as it pressed constantly on the bricks on its unfixed side."
,

King also manages to instill in the rea
...more
Ash
Mar 30, 2014 Ash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a fan of Art History and I felt that I was back in my college class again. All of the vocabulary was spread throughout this book and reignited my passion for not History but Architecture as well. Ross King wrote about roughly the 16 year period of Filippo Brunelleschi's life when he was elected Capomaestro during the building of the dome for the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral.

Brunelleschi's innovative architectural design was chosen above all others including Lorenzo Ghiberti. The two woul
...more
David
Jan 25, 2011 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Brunelleschi’s Dome Ross King describes the often troubled career and life of Filippo Brunelleschi, the mastermind and genius behind the construction of the great Doma in Florence. This dome is still the largest masonry dome constructed even today, with a diameter of 140 feet (the Capital building dome is only 95 feet). His ingenuous construction methods eliminated the center timber supports that most arches and domes used up to that point in time. With interlocking bricks, sandstone circumfe ...more
Becky B
Part history of the building of the famous dome on the cathedral in Florence, and part biography of the man who was finally chosen to figure out how to build it. (It was actually artistically designed by someone other than Brunelleschi; he just got to figure out how to make the art a reality.)

An interesting read if you like history, architecture, or biographies of artists/inventors. There were times when the author tried to describe very detailed specifics of Brunelleschi's architectural design
...more
Conrad
Aug 04, 2013 Conrad rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A highly entertaining account about the architectural conundrum of 14th Century Florence: The design and construction of the tallest and widest dome ever built by humanity. Solving the puzzle encouraged a level of thinking that would help to usher in nothing less than a new age. Brunelleschi's Duomo, the glorious crown of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, is a pivotal achievement whose significance reaches beyond Florence, beyond Tuscany and Italy, to encompass the spirit of European Renaissa ...more
James
Jul 11, 2012 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In times past, this would have been a sober little handbook with about half the text and a lot more photos and diagrams, and it would have been a very good little handbook, too; King's grasp of the architectural mechanics, his interest in the cranes that Brunelleschi conceived to realise his feats of imagination, all this is excellent and, having been in Florence since reading it, I can attest its value as a guide for the visitor.

The problem is the obligatory soap opera material that gets clagge
...more
Immen
Jan 16, 2015 Immen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book combines all pop science's dread of technical detail with pop history's rapacity for gossip and speculation. It's kind of a haphazard book, basically a chronological collection of strange anecdotes with an alarming tendency to allude to the fact that no one knows what they're talking about because this all happened at the turn of the 14th century and we can't actually see the innards of the dome and observe how it is keeping itself up. That being said, "weirdly random collection of inf ...more
Tiffany
A truly fascinating account of the daring construction of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Remaining to this day a marvel of architectural achievement, built without central support and in a size surpassing any other brick and mortar dome construction ever accomplished, in many ways it shouldn't have been possible. The genius of Brunelleschi in not only designing and overseeing the construction of the dome, but also constructing many new machines to aid in the cons ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ross King (born July 16, 1962) is a Canadian novelist and non-fiction writer. He began his career by writing two works of historical fiction in the 1990s, later turning to non-fiction, and has since written several critically acclaimed and best-selling historical works.

King
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