Ross King‘s Brunelleschi’s Dome is a fascinating account of the creation of the famous dome that crowns the Florence Cathedral. The book is a well-researched and engaging narrative that captures the genius and creativity of Filippo Brunelleschi, the mastermind behind the dome’s construction. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of architecture and engineering.

Brunelleschi’s Dome is a tale of determination, skill, and innovation. At the time, building a dome of such magnitude and complexity was considered impossible. However, Brunelleschi’s unwavering determination and innovative ideas led to the creation of one of the most iconic landmarks of Florence. King does an excellent job of narrating the story of how Brunelleschi overcame the various obstacles he faced during the construction of the dome.

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King is a fascinating and meticulously researched account of the construction of the dome of the Florence Cathedral, one of the greatest architectural achievements of the Renaissance. King masterfully interweaves historical, cultural, and technical aspects to create a compelling narrative that engages the reader from beginning to end.

One of the book’s strengths is its ability to explain complex engineering concepts in a way that is accessible to the layperson. King clearly and concisely explains the various construction techniques used in building the dome, including flying buttresses, wooden machines, and cranes. He also describes how Brunelleschi’s innovative ideas, such as the double shell structure and the herringbone pattern, helped to overcome the challenges of building the dome.                            

Book in Focus: Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King - Sheet1
Book cover of Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King_©Amazon UK

Narrative the book | Ross King

The book’s narrative is structured chronologically, starting with the competition Brunelleschi entered into designing the dome. King describes Brunelleschi’s challenges during the competition and how he was eventually awarded the contract. The book describes the various stages of the construction process, the engineering challenges involved, and the political and cultural context in which the dome was built. The book is also peppered with anecdotes about the people involved in the construction process, from the labourers to the architects and engineers.

The book provides a comprehensive overview of the political, social, and artistic context of fifteenth-century Florence, one of Europe’s most prosperous and influential cities. King describes how the Florentine Republic, ruled by powerful families such as the Medici and the Albizzi, sought to assert its dominance over other Italian states and establish its reputation as a centre of culture and commerce.

One of the ways the Florentine Republic hoped to achieve this was by building a cathedral that would be the world’s envy. The cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, had been under construction since 1296 but still needed its most crucial element: a dome covering the massive octagonal crossing that joined the nave and the transept.

The Dome

King explains how the problem of how to build such a dome had vexed generations of architects and engineers. The dome needed to be not only structurally sound but also aesthetically pleasing, a challenge that seemed insurmountable given the size and weight of the dome, the limited resources available, and the need for modern technology.

The book’s central figure is Filippo Brunelleschi, the brilliant and idiosyncratic architect who eventually won the competition to design and build the dome. King’s portrayal of Brunelleschi is both nuanced and vivid, showing him as a complex and often contradictory figure who was both a visionary and a practical problem-solver.

King describes in detail how Brunelleschi tackled the numerous technical challenges posed by the dome, from devising a way to transport materials up to the top of the cathedral to designing a complex system of scaffolding and hoists to enable workers to construct the dome safely and efficiently. King also explains how Brunelleschi convinced the sceptical and often obstinate guilds and officials of Florence to support his daring and untested approach.

Ross King
Structure of Brunelleschi’s Dome by Brunelleschi_©Goodreads

King draws on various sources throughout the book, including letters, diaries, and historical documents, to provide a rich and textured account of the people and events involved in constructing the dome. He also provides insightful analyses of the artistic and cultural trends of the time, showing how the dome was a product not only of technical ingenuity but also of the wider intellectual and aesthetic currents of the Renaissance.

The greatest strength of Brunelleschi’s Dome is its ability to convey the sheer awe-inspiring nature of the dome itself. King’s descriptions of the dome’s size, shape, and beauty are vivid and evocative, capturing the essence of this architectural masterpiece in words. The reader comes away with a deep appreciation of Brunelleschi’s genius and the countless workers, artisans, and craftsmen who laboured for years to bring his vision to life.

Conclusion | Ross King

Overall, Brunelleschi’s Dome is a masterful work of historical and technical scholarship that will appeal to anyone interested in the history of architecture, engineering, or the Renaissance. King’s prose is clear and engaging, and his research is meticulous and comprehensive. The book is a fitting tribute to one of human history’s greatest works of art and engineering. It will undoubtedly continue to inspire and fascinate readers for generations to come.


MLA. King, Ross, 1962-. Brunelleschi’s Dome : How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. New York :Walker & Co., 2000.


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