Jessica’s Book Reviews
The summer warmth is quickly being replaced by cool autumn nights. For me that means more time in front of a warm fireplace with a good book! In recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating to more architecturally significant or influenced novels. I thought I would give a short review of a few that might peek your interest as well. So grab a warm blanket, a cup of coffee, and one of these great reads!
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
This combination of fact and fiction tells the story of a young Frank Lloyd Wright in the decade before World War I. At the beginning of his architecture career, Frank met Mamah Borthwick Cheney while designing and building a “prairie house” for her and her husband Edwin Cheney in Oak Park, Illinois. The book follows Frank and Mamah as the pair set forth on a scandalous love affair that leads Mrs. Cheney to leave her husband and two small children- and Frank to leave his wife and six children- and flee together to Europe in the early 1900s. While chronicling their life together, the book traces Wright’s early professional career, endangered by his personal behavior, and his trek back to America where he designed Taliesin as a place of public escape in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin. It’s a wonderfully romantic but architecturally laced tale, and a must for any FLW fan!
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
This historical novel tracks the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbridge, England in the middle of the 12th century. The story looks at the lives of both the villagers, builders, and the group of noble and religious leaders who held the fortunes at the time. Peppered with historical events, the book examines the changes in the social, economic, and architectural landscape at a time when Romanesque architecture was on its way out, and Gothic architecture was emerging. I caution that this lengthy book, 1174 pages in all, is a beast to get through, but well worth the time as it transports you to the Middle Ages and a time when the world was truly changing.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
If the title itself didn’t catch your interest, I don’t know what else will. This novel is a great combination of historical fact and edge of your seat storytelling set before and during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect who received the commission to design and organize construction of the fair, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who pretends to be a doctor. The chapters alternate between the immense obstacles Burnham had to overcome, both personally and professionally, to get the Fair construction completed in time and the horrifying tale of the dark “Dr. Holmes” who used the festivities around him to lure his victims. By the end of the book you too will be immersed in the magic and madness that was 19th-century Chicago.
Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King
Ok, so I admit that I’m only about half way through this book, but I couldn’t be happier that I picked it up! If you have ever visited Florence, seen Santa Maria del Fiore, and love architectural history, this book is a must read. The story follows the building of the new cathedral in Florence from 1418 onward and paints a wonderful portrait of the complexities of a project of this magnitude. It also enlightens the reader into the life and times of Brunelleschi the artist, architect, and engineer. The sheer genius and, for lack of better term, guts of Brunelleschi and the tradesmen at the time are amazingly documented throughout the book. I’m excited to continue the journey through construction of this beautiful work of architectural art!