Brunelleschi’s Dome opens with a description of the city of Florence in 1418, when it is holding a competition for artists or architects to produce a model or design for the vaulting of the main dome of the large new cathedral being built there. Six weeks are allowed for the candidate to produce his sample work for the dome, which will complement the cathedral campanile on which the artist Giotto has worked for twenty years. Because of the proportions of the work already completed, the crowning dome will have to be the highest and widest dome ever built – higher and wider than the 143’ 6” diameter of the Pantheon built in Rome a thousand years earlier and never duplicated. The Gothic architecture popular in the rest of Europe, with its flying buttresses to draw the weight of large arches and domes away from the center of the cathedral, does not appeal to the Florentines, who want something different for their cathedral. The finalists in the competition are Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and clockmaker, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, a worker in bronze who has designed the doors of the Baptistery of Florence. Detailing the issues that Brunelleschi faced for twenty-five years as he designed and built the dome of the cathedral, Ross King makes the complex engineering and structural feats of building this dome understandable to the lay reader and makes Brunelleschi’s behavior human
Category Archive for 'Non-fiction'
Although author Herman Wouk talks about writing as a crapshoot, he himself also had a talent for being in the right place at the right time, recognizing new opportunities and new avenues of communication (such as television) as they have arisen. This talent, combined with his incredible dedication to long-range goals and seemingly unlimited energy – several times spending seven or eight years on a single book – led to popular success as well as literary recognition. Though many people over the years have suggested he write an autobiography, he has always been reticent about his private life, and his wife even told him, “Dear, you’re not that interesting a person.” This book, which he has declared will be his last, is a memoir, but in it, Wouk limits its scope to his work and the people and events which influenced it. About the author, one learns only as much as he deems necessary to understand how and why he wrote what he did. One of the most ambitious and principled writers of the past century ,Wouk has said that this book is his last. With a career which has spanned comedy, serious historical fiction, popular fiction, philosophy, and religion, Wouk has sold hundreds of thousands of books and had a major impact on the people and the culture of this country. He will be one-hundred-one years old on May 27, 2016, but with his energy, I would not bet anything on this book being his last.
In this unusual approach to memoir writing, Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano presents all aspects of his life from his earliest memories until he turns twenty-one, without embroidering them, without drawing conclusions about who he is as a result of them, and without moralizing, excusing, or apologizing. It is as complete a record of his life as he can apparently remember or resurrect from records, with numerous references to people and places that were important to him but that most American readers will not recognize. The result feels more like an objective research tool for students of Modiano’s work rather than what one finds in memoirs written by other, more loquacious, authors. Those who have read a novel like Suspended Sentences, for example, cannot help but believe that much, if not most, of that novel is autobiographical. Here in this memoir, however, Modiano gives only the basic outlines of the events at the heart of that novel, forcing the reader to conclude that the action in this and other novels has been embellished, developed, and described in ways which make for great fiction, whether or not it is completely true. An unusual view of the past and its memories.
Imagining his father waiting at a train station outside of Auschwitz, where he has just been liberated, Swedish author Goran Rosenberg, the child of two Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland, has decided to begin his memoir about his father’s life with his father’s journey to Sweden, the place where he plans to live but where he knows no one. There, his father plans to close the book on his earlier life in Poland and his incarceration at Auschwitz and settle down to make a new life. In his early twenties and weighing just over eighty pounds when he arrives, his father David finds and then arranges for his future wife Hala to join him after a two-year separation, then begins his family and their lives as survivors of the Holocaust in a completely foreign environment. Goran Rosenberg’s memoir, monumental in its insights into post-war survival, clear and unequivocal in its presentation of facts, artistic and beautifully written, and emotionally involving for the reader, makes the Rosenberg family, with its difficulties and its triumphs, more than the story of one family, however much we want them to succeed. Through this memoir, Goran Rosenberg makes them symbolic of all the survivors of this terrible war as they try also to survive their survivorhood.
The language with which vintners, connoisseurs, and critics talk about their favorite subject often resembles religious ecstasies, making the use of sacred wine for Christian communion services seem not only appropriate but completely right. Fortunately for readers of this book, which is “the true story of the plot to poison the world’s greatest wine,” author Maximillian Potter, a journalist, takes a much more secular approach to the subject, as he investigates the very real 2010 plot to poison the vines at the Domaine Romanee-Conti on the Cote d’Or, which has been in the same family for almost three hundred years. With its Pinot Noir regarded as the world’s greatest wine, and its availability extremely limited because the vineyard itself is small, the interest of sophisticated criminals in this wine is not surprising. “Bottle for bottle, vintage for vintage, Romanee-Conti is the most coveted, rarest, and thereby the most expensive wine on the planet. At auction, a single bottle of Romanee-Conti from 1945 was then fetching as much as $124,000.” The 2010 crime within the French vineyard itself is daring, potentially devastating to the vineyard, and both complex and time-consuming to pull off, as an unknown person or persons sets out to extort a million euros from M. Aubert de Villaine, the seventy-one-year-old “Grand Monsieur” who runs the Domaine with his cousin Henri-Frederic Roch. The extortionist plans to poison the domaine’s vines.