For all aspiring Renaissance people, as well as for students of urban design, art history, and early modern European history.

HIS INVENTION SO FERTILE

A LIFE OF CHRISTOPHER WREN

Sometimes plodding, always illuminating biography of the renowned English architect and overachiever.

Christopher Wren (1632–1723), writes British architectural historian Tinniswood, came of age among unusually brilliant contemporaries. His classmates at the Westminster School, for instance, included future Anglican cleric Richard South, future poet John Dryden, and future philosopher John Locke. Even in such distinguished company, young Wren was reckoned to be unusually gifted, and he soon distinguished himself as a prolific coiner of what his family album called “New Theories, Inventions, Experiments, and Mechanick Improvements,” contributing to anatomy, astronomy, optics, cryptography, hydrology, military engineering, textile manufacturing, and agriculture, to name just a few fields. (He was also fond of performing medical experiments on dogs, the details of which are not for the squeamish.) A Leonardo da Vinci for his day, Wren was, Tinniswood demonstrates, practically as well as theoretically minded; he managed to thread his way through complex political tangles in a time of anti-monarchical, anti-Catholic revolution to gain favored status in the courts of several English monarchs. Though appointed professor of astronomy at Oxford at 29, Wren strove for greater renown, which he would achieve by designing St. Paul’s Cathedral and other public buildings in the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666. As Tinniswood shows, Wren’s ultimately unrealized plans for remaking the city were well ahead of their time, though his trademark hybrid of Gothic and classical styles would be seen as old-fashioned toward the end of his very long life. Tinniswood’s account sometimes gasps under the weight of overabundant detail, but it adds much to our understanding of Wren in the context of his time and as a craftsman whose “holistic approach to design” and “need to control every stage of the process . . . were something new in British architecture.”

For all aspiring Renaissance people, as well as for students of urban design, art history, and early modern European history.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-19-514898-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Highly recommended—anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book.

HOW MUSIC WORKS

From the former Talking Heads frontman, a supremely intelligent, superbly written dissection of music as an art form and way of life.

Drawing on a lifetime of music-making as an amateur, professional, performer, producer, band member and solo artist, Byrne (Bicycle Diaries, 2009) tackles the question implicit in his title from multiple angles: How does music work on the ear, brain and body? How do words relate to music in a song? How does live performance relate to recorded performance? What effect has technology had on music, and music on technology? Fans of the Talking Heads should find plenty to love about this book. Steering clear of the conflicts leading to the band’s breakup, Byrne walks through the history, album by album, to illustrate how his views about performance and recording changed with the onset of fame and (small) fortune. He devotes a chapter to the circumstances that made the gritty CBGB nightclub an ideal scene for adventurous artists like Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Tom Verlaine and Television. Always an intensely thoughtful experimenter, here he lets us in on the thinking behind the experiments. But this book is not just, or even primarily, a rock memoir. It’s also an exploration of the radical transformation—or surprising durability—of music from the beginning of the age of mechanical reproduction through the era of iTunes and MP3s. Byrne touches on all kinds of music from all ages and every part of the world.

Highly recommended—anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-53-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Startling, at times pretentious in its self-regard, but ultimately breathtaking: The Lost Weekend for the under-25 set.

A MILLION LITTLE PIECES

Frey’s lacerating, intimate debut chronicles his recovery from multiple addictions with adrenal rage and sprawling prose.

After ten years of alcoholism and three years of crack addiction, the 23-year-old author awakens from a blackout aboard a Chicago-bound airplane, “covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood.” While intoxicated, he learns, he had fallen from a fire escape and damaged his teeth and face. His family persuades him to enter a Minnesota clinic, described as “the oldest Residential Drug and Alcohol Facility in the World.” Frey’s enormous alcohol habit, combined with his use of “Cocaine . . . Pills, acid, mushrooms, meth, PCP and glue,” make this a very rough ride, with the DTs quickly setting in: “The bugs crawl onto my skin and they start biting me and I try to kill them.” Frey captures with often discomforting acuity the daily grind and painful reacquaintance with human sensation that occur in long-term detox; for example, he must undergo reconstructive dental surgery without anesthetic, an ordeal rendered in excruciating detail. Very gradually, he confronts the “demons” that compelled him towards epic chemical abuse, although it takes him longer to recognize his own culpability in self-destructive acts. He effectively portrays the volatile yet loyal relationships of people in recovery as he forms bonds with a damaged young woman, an addicted mobster, and an alcoholic judge. Although he rejects the familiar 12-step program of AA, he finds strength in the principles of Taoism and (somewhat to his surprise) in the unflinching support of family, friends, and therapists, who help him avoid a relapse. Our acerbic narrator conveys urgency and youthful spirit with an angry, clinical tone and some initially off-putting prose tics—irregular paragraph breaks, unpunctuated dialogue, scattered capitalization, few commas—that ultimately create striking accruals of verisimilitude and plausible human portraits.

Startling, at times pretentious in its self-regard, but ultimately breathtaking: The Lost Weekend for the under-25 set.

Pub Date: April 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50775-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

more