Saving Michelangelo’s Dome: How Three Mathematicians and a Pope Sparked an Architectural Revolution

Pegasus. Mar. 2024. 394p. ISBN 9781639365869. $29.95. HIST
In his first book, civil and structural engineer Kalayjian narrates the design, construction, and eventual repair of the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. In 1546, when Michelangelo was 71, he was commissioned to design the dome, but he died before it could be completed; his student carried out his mentor’s vision for the project. When it was finished in 1590, it stood as the tallest dome in the world, at 452 feet high. The dome’s base started cracking in the early 18th century, so Pope Benedict XIV summoned three mathematicians to determine how to keep it from collapsing. That collaboration yielded scientific innovations and, unwittingly, invented the modern profession of engineering, Kalayjian argues. His book includes a lot of papal history, which may seem superfluous to readers strictly looking for the technical aspects of the dome. But he doesn’t skimp on those details either; alongside the narration of political and personality conflicts, there’s significant information about the engineering behind the construction and restoration of the dome. The book includes endnotes and a lengthy bibliography.
VERDICT An accessible book about the history of the dome that sparked an architectural revolution; recommended for general audiences.
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