Trough the prism of the tumultuous life and brilliant intellect of Sir Christopher Wren, the multitalented architect of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, historian Lisa Jardine unfolds the vibrant, extraordinary emerging new world of late-seventeenth-century science and ideas.
The man behind the bold, imposing beauty of Saint Paul's was as remarkable as the monuments he has left us. Wren was a versatile genius who could have pursued a number of brilliant careers with equal virtuosity. A mathematical prodigy, an accomplished astronomer, a skillful anatomist, and a founder of the Royal Society, he eventually made a career in what he described disparagingly in later life as "Rubbish " -- architecture, and the design and construction of public buildings.
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 during two civil wars; exercised his creativity through the English Commonwealth, the Great Fire, the Restoration. His royal employment out lasted abdication, Dutch invasion, and the eventual extinction of the Stuart dynasty.
Beyond the public achievements, Jardine explores Wren's personal motivations and passions. He was a sincere, intensely moral 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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Lisa Jardine, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, is the director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, the centenary professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She lives with her husband and three children in London.From Publishers Weekly:
This is the second biography of Wren (1632-1723) to appear in the last year, following Adrian Tinniswood's His Invention So Fertile (Oxford). Renaissance scholar Jardine (Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution, etc.) takes the cultural historical tack that has brought her scholarly renown, providing not only a nearly day-by-day account of the polymathic British architect's most important moments but minutely detailed background on institutions like the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory (along with the Order of the Garter), on developing science (blood transfusion, longitude) and on people: the royal families, Robert Hooke, John Evelyn. Wren was appointed to the Rebuilding Commission established after the devastating Great Fire of London in 1666, becoming in time responsible for the design and rebuilding of all 51 churches destroyed by the fire, and for the reconstruction of St. Paul's. By the time Wren came to that work by which he is best known, he had already achieved enormous distinction as a scientist, inventor and mathematician-and he was 34 years old. By 1689, he was at work renovating Hampton Court Palace for William and Mary, the third royal family he had served; in their reign, he was appointed surveyor of Westminster Abbey in 1698, a post he held until his death. To stick with Jardine requires a serious interest in Wren and period history. The rich documentation-the full text of private and public papers (e.g., letters of patent, royal warrants, correspondence, receipts, marginalia, excerpts from diaries) and 80 b&w illustrations and a 16-page color insert-may dizzy the reader who is not intimate with 17th century prose style, but will astonish those who are. And Jardine's discovery of an underground chamber in the Monument to the Great Fire is something any amateur sleuth will enjoy.
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