On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life of Sir Christopher Wren

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9780060199746: On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life of Sir Christopher Wren

A biography of Sir Christopher Wren from one of Britain’s best writers and historians

The figure of Sir Christopher Wren looms large in English national consciousness. The imposing beauty of St Paul's Cathedral stands forever for the nation's achievement – its undamaged dome towering above the rubble of the Blitz in the Second World War a symbol of the London's indomitable fighting spirit.
The man behind the work was as remarkable as the monuments he has left us. Lisa Jardine takes us deep into Wren's imagination and discovers the unique, exacting nature of his mind and the emerging new world of late-seventeenth-century science and ideas.
Wren was a versatile genius who could have pursued a number of brilliant careers with equal virtuosity. A mathematical prodigy, an accomplished astronomer, a skilful anatomist, and a founder of The Royal Society, he eventually made a career in what he described in later life as 'Rubbish' – architecture, and the design and construction of public buildings. But he remained committed to science. The Monument to the Great Fire was built with a subterranean laboratory; the south-west tower of St Paul's was used as a vertical telescope during construction – both were designed to function as public monuments and as oversized scientific instruments.
Wren was a major figure at a turning point in English history. He mapped moons and the trajectories of comets for kings; lived and worked under six monarchs; pursued astronomy and medicine through two civil wars, the English Commonwealth, the Great Fire, the Restoration, and the eventual extinction of the Stuart dynasty.
Jardine explores also Wren's personal motivations and passions. A sincere man with a remarkable capacity for friendship, his career was shaped by lasting associations forged during a turbulent boyhood, and a lifelong loyalty to the memory of his father's master and benefactor, the 'martyred' king, Charles I. Everything Wren undertook he envisaged on a grander scale – bigger, better, more enduring than anything that had gone before.

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Review:

On A Grander Scale: The Outstanding Career of Sir Christopher Wren is Lisa Jardine's (aptly titled) expansive and scholarly biography of the architect responsible for some of London's finest buildings. Wren was not only an extremely talented architect; he was also a gifted mathematician, inventor, anatomist and astronomer. The latter interest, Jardine reveals, shaped his designs for the Greenwich Observatory, St Paul's cathedral and the Monument to the Great Fire of London, which was constructed with a scientific laboratory in its basement.

Illuminating Wren's perpetual commitment, and his contributions, to science forms the major part of this study. (Later in life, Wren himself complained that he "had been obliged to spend all his time in rubbish" instead of working on his true vocation, science.) One of the most compelling aspects of Jardine's book, however, proves to be her thorough examination of the influence of the regicide on Wren¹s life and career. Wren's father and uncle were distinguished Royalists who idolised the martyred Charles I during the Commonwealth era. At the Restoration, Charles II rewarded faithful old Royalists by giving them and their offspring senior positions in his deeply nepotistic court. Wren and many of his circle--including John Evelyn, Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle--were recipients of such patronage. As this impressive work shows, the ideals of the Royal restoration and the architect's own ambitious building schemes were always inextricably linked.--Travis Elborough

Review:

'A wonderful book which looks set to be the definitive life of Wren for a long time to come' –Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday

'Jardine writes with ease, style, enthusiasm and humanity'
–Kerry Downes, TLS

‘Engrossing’
The New Yorker

'A full and fascinating biography…Jardine is particularly good on the extraordinary width of Wren's interests and achievements'
–Antonia Fraser, New Statesman

'A great fist of an intellectual biography'
–Andrew Saint, Guardian

'Imaginative, fluent and scholarly'
–Linda Colley, The Times

An 'extraordinary story…told with relish by Lisa Jardine, whose qualifications for the task are exactly right, for it needs a rare combination of scientific knowledge, historical skill, and narrative power…It was a life of quiet courage and great achievement, and Jardine's celebration of it does it ample justice'
–AC Grayling, Independent on Sunday

'As we would expect from her, Jardine is excellent at placing Wren in the historical and intellectual context of his time…While going over familiar ground, she comes up with some startling discoveries'
–Gavin Stamp, Daily Telegraph

'Immensely detailed…Jardine, following the scientific trail, has constructed a book that is as much an account of a movement as a biography of a man…Like its subtitle, this book is on a grander scale than other recent Wren biographies and is probably as definitive as current studies allow…Amazing value for the sheer amount of historical research; it sheds much light on Wren's extraordinary times'
–Hugh Pearman, Sunday Times

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