I really, really, really love the way that Ross King writes about art and architecture. I had to keep reminding myself of this, as I struggled through the dense technical descriptions that explained in greater detail than I ever would imagine needing the arduous, grand, nigh miraculous construction of the dome atop the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. What makes Mr. King's books so special (my favorite of his, so far, is The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism -- a simply fabulous read -- everything a book of that sort ought to be) is that he marries human interest aspects of the artists to a meticulous understanding of the art they create, which produces the fruit of appreciation in the reader that is both new-found and profound.
The biggest difficulty in writing about Renaissance genius, Filippo Brunelleschi, is that, apart from the inherent trials of the monumental task he undertook and his amazing feats of invention and ingenuity, there is not much else there. Does that make sense? I mean, Brunelleschi set out to design and construct a dome for the unfinished cathedral; he did just that. All in all, he met with few of the derisive and dismissive skeptics and establishments that tend to separate the radically creative artist from the fulfillment of his vision. Sure, Mr. King does an admirable job in trying to drum up some tension for Brunelleschi in the form of rivals like Lorenzo Ghiberti or Giovanni da Prato; but, these fellows never were able to stand much in Filippo's way. Nope, he just designed the dome, designed machines to assist in the building of the dome, and supervised it until its completion -- which happened before he died, even. The book, without notes, is only 167 pages, and it is easy to understand why. While Mr. King's extensive explanations of physics and geometry leave the architecturally unschooled reader in mouth-gaping awe, ultimately the subject does not afford the same heart-pounding excitement of his other books.