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Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was the greatest architect Britain has ever known. But he was more than that. A founder of the Royal Society, he mapped the moon and the stars, investigated the problem of longitude and the rings of Saturn, and carried out groundbreaking experiments into the circulation of the blood. His observations on comets, meteorology and muscular action made vital contributions to the developing ideas of Newton, Halley and Boyle.
His Invention So Fertile presents the first complete picture of this towering genius: the Surveyor-General of the King's Works, running the nation's biggest architectural office and wrestling with corruption and interference; the pioneering anatomist; the mathematician, devising new navigational instruments and lecturing on planetary motion.
It also shows us the man behind the legend. Wren was married and widowed twice, he fathered a mentally handicapped child, quarrelled with his colleagues and fell foul of his employers. He scrambled over building sites and went to the theatre and drank in coffee-houses. The book explores what it was like to be at Oxford during the Commonwealth, as a generation struggled to make sense of a society in chaos; it recreates the tensions which tore apart the court of James II; it brings to life the petty jealousies that formed an integral part of both the building world and scientific milieu of the Royal Society.
Above all, His Invention So Fertile makes clear to the general reader and the art historian just why Wren remains a cultural icon - both a creation and a creator of the world he lived in.
British architectural historian Tinniswood (The National Trust Historic Houses Handbook) offers a life of Britain's great architect Wren (1632 1723), whose most famous masterpiece is St Paul's Cathedral in London, site of Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding and, most recently, a moving service in memory of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Starting unexpectedly with a scene of Wren as polymath performing a "canine splenectomy" (as Tinniswood correctly terms the removal of a dog's spleen), the book finds Wren during the days of the Great Fire of 1666 offering a brilliant plan for rebuilding in 53 days. (It was stymied by property disputes.) Nearly 30 years later, Wren planned a massive layout of blocks of structures for the Royal Naval Hospital, which was built over the next 50 years, including a Queen Anne Block to match a King Charles Block, and matching King William and Queen Mary Blocks, the latter two dominated by Wren's spectacular domes. One sees why Samuel Johnson found the buildings at Greenwich "too magnificent for a place of charity." Wren also made important contributions to science, inventing a "weather clock" that works like a modern barometer and new methods of engraving, and he helped develop a technique for blood transfusions. All of this work is intelligently described. Tinniswood admits where documents are lacking regarding events in Wren's private life (for example, for his daughter's cause of death). He finds that praising Wren's works (shown in 30 b&w illustrations), can seem almost trite, "rather like saying that Shakespeare wrote some good plays." Still, readers interested in European art and architecture will be glad for the care he takes in doing so, while academics will find the book a sure guide to their sources.