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His Invention So Fertile

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This lively, sympathetic and hugely informative biography brings us closer to Wren than ever before.' Frances Spalding, Independent

About the Author

Adrian Tinniswood is the author of fourteen books of social and architectural history. A Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham and a Visiting Fellow in Heritage and History at Bath Spa University, he has worked for and with the National Trust at local, regional and national level for more than thirty years. In 2013 he was awarded an OBE for services to heritage.


British architectural historian Tinniswood (The National Trust Historic Houses Handbook) offers a life of Britain's great architect Wren (1632-1723), whose most famous masterpiece is St Paul's Cathedral in London, site of Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding and, most recently, a moving service in memory of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Starting unexpectedly with a scene of Wren as polymath performing a "canine splenectomy" (as Tinniswood correctly terms the removal of a dog's spleen), the book finds Wren during the days of the Great Fire of 1666 offering a brilliant plan for rebuilding in 53 days. (It was stymied by property disputes.) Nearly 30 years later, Wren planned a massive layout of blocks of structures for the Royal Naval Hospital, which was built over the next 50 years, including a Queen Anne Block to match a King Charles Block, and matching King William and Queen Mary Blocks, the latter two dominated by Wren's spectacular domes. One sees why Samuel Johnson found the buildings at Greenwich "too magnificent for a place of charity." Wren also made important contributions to science, inventing a "weather clock" that works like a modern barometer and new methods of engraving, and he helped develop a technique for blood transfusions. All of this work is intelligently described. Tinniswood admits where documents are lacking regarding events in Wren's private life (for example, for his daughter's cause of death). He finds that praising Wren's works (shown in 30 b&w illustrations), can seem almost trite, "rather like saying that Shakespeare wrote some good plays." Still, readers interested in European art and architecture will be glad for the care he takes in doing so, while academics will find the book a sure guide to their sources. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"This lively, sympathetic and hugely informative biography brings us closer to Wren than ever before" -- Frances Spalding * Independent * "Cleanly written, diligently researched and powered by an engrossing passion for its subject" -- Andrew Motion * Financial Times * "Adrian Tinniswood is undaunted by the breadth of Wren's career and has written a fine, well-balanced biography" -- Michael Prodger * Sunday Telegraph * "Lively, knowledgeable, affectionate...[a] fine biography" -- Jenny Uglow * Sunday Times * "This work is by no means a conventional architectural history. But then Christopher Wren was by no means a conventional architect" -- Peter J.M. Wayne * Spectator *

Though Christopher Wren (1632-1723) began his career as an astronomer also interested in mathematics, physics, and medicine, he is among the most noted British architects of the Baroque period. Having won the commission to rebuild St. Paul's Cathedral in London, he employed a mastery of classical principles gained through self-education in architectural treatises and close observation of the work of Inigo Jones and Baroque buildings in Paris during a trip in 1665-66. Tinniswood (Visions of Power: Ambition and Architecture from Ancient Times to the Present) turns his talents to biography, offering in full, novelistic detail an account of 17th-century Britain, with its plagues, fires, and royal patron Charles II. The aim here is clearly not a deep examination of the architecture but rather a scholarly, readable portrait of the social and political world in which Wren lived and worked so productively. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks. Though clearly rendered, the black-and-white illustrations are grouped in signatures, making them remote from the text. Inconveniently, topics within index entries are arranged sequentially by page number rather than alphabetically, and there are significant omissions, such as an entry for St. Stephen Walbroke. Tinniswood's biography is far more detailed than John Lindsey's Wren: His Work and Times (1952), but it lacks that book's very useful chronological list of works. For larger architectural or biographical collections. Paul Glassman, New York Sch. of Interior Design Lib. interior Design By Gayle A. Williamson, Fashion Inst. of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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