November 28, 2018

Book review: “Through the Bookstore Window” by Bill Petrocelli

  I picked up Bill Petrocelli’s Through the Bookstore Window in the midst of reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.  I wasn’t looking for a break, but I had already gone more than 500 pages into what is a book of nearly 900 pages, so maybe I was wanting a small respite.  In any case, I picked up Through the Bookstore Window, and the opening chapter was enough to entice me into reading the whole book. I’m not sure if it’s fair to any author to try to read the author’s work while also reading Dickens.  So, when Petrocelli’s book dragged a bit — well, a lot — in the first half, I figured it might not be his fault. In the end, it was a workmanlike book that, for me, collapsed under the weight of too many social issues, trends and controversies that were crammed into its 278 pages.  To wit, in no particular order: Incest The Bosnian War A kidnapping A back-alley abortionist Two near suicides A workplace shooting A drive-by shooting A sniper shooting A rape The Vietnam War Sex trafficking A gay female couple A gay male couple A pregnant teen A transgender character Fundamentalist Christianity […]
November 26, 2018

Book review: “Barons of the Sea…And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship” by Steven Ujifusa

    Steven Ujifusa’s Barons of the Sea ends with a quote from Captain Charlie Porter Low, a man who had run away to sea and spent his life as the master of large, fast merchant ships plying the oceans between China and New York, London and San Francisco. One who loves the sailing of a ship is always watching for the wind to blow, and the wind is never in the same quarter for any length of time, and the sails have to be trimmed very often and the yards braced forwards or squared, to catch the veering winds. In the trade winds from Cape of Good Hope, you can run for weeks without altering the yards, in which time you can trice up all the running rigging clear of the rails, tar down all the standing rigging, scrape and oil the masts, paint the ship inside and out, holystone and oil the decks, and have her all ready to go into port in good shape; but in the variable winds, you must have everything ready for bad weather at any time. Barons of the Sea was written for two audiences: (1) sailors and those who love sailing, and […]
November 21, 2018

Poem: We are all Elijah on the mountain

      The still, small voice is still an itch in the corner of the skull, a catch of breath, a comma, a hesitancy, a heartbeat, a hush, a scratching at the edge, a bloom in the storm, a sideways glimpse, small as a spirit.   Patrick T. Reardon 11.22.2018  
November 19, 2018

Book review: “The Talmud: A Biography” by Barry Scott Wimpfheimer

In 1997, near the end of the long-running television comedy Seinfeld, Larry Charles said that, when he and the other writers would sit down to produce a script, it was like “writing the Talmud — a dark Talmud.  You have a lot of brilliant minds examining a thought or ethical question from every possible angle.” It is highly unlikely that any of those writers had studied the Talmud, writes Barry Scott Wimpfheimer in The Talmud: A Biography, but “there is something profoundly Talmudic to the microscopic musings of a ‘Seinfeld’ episode and the way in which the characters free-associate in Talmudic fashion.” Indeed, this sort of hyper-detailed examination of the mundane from a wide variety of perspectives is also the hallmark of many Jewish entertainers, whether in standup comedy (Sarah Silverman), novels (Saul Bellow) or movies (Woody Allen), and it’s an example of what Wimpfheimer characterizes as the emblematic Talmud.   Three definitions In the opening pages of The Talmud:  A Biography, Wimpfheimer, an associate professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, explains that the Babylonian Talmud can be defined in three different, somewhat overlapping and equally accurate ways. First, the Talmud is a religious work of nearly two million […]
November 14, 2018

Book review: Three books about Shakespeare —3— “Religion Around Shakespeare” by Peter Iver Kaufman

    On the first page of Religion Around Shakespeare, Peter Iver Kaufman makes it clear that he’s not writing about Shakespeare the believer, Shakespeare the adherent to this or that religious faith. What I do in this book is give everyone interested in reading, watching, interpreting or performing the plays a good look at the religion around Shakespeare.  Circumstance is my subject. There has developed a cottage industry of books and other writings which attempt to use Shakespeare’s plays and poems as evidence that he was a Catholic or a Calvinist or the disciple of a “hybrid faith.”  But Kaufman asserts, “I am not mining for that metal…Circumstance — the religion around the playwright, not his faith or the plays’ proper interpretations — is my subject.” Take Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s greatest personalities. Kaufman notes that some scholars read the plays in which Falstaff is featured and assert that he is a parody of puritans, at least as they were depicted by their opponents, since “Falstaff spouted sanctimonious judgments while remorselessly grasping at wealth and influence.”  Or, as one proponent of this argument writes, he is “a thoroughly worn out and flabby…type of Protestant hero.” On the other hand, […]
November 12, 2018

Book review: Three books about Shakespeare —2— “Lear: The Great Image of Authority” by Harold Bloom

    Twice, King Lear says, “Nothing will come from nothing.”  It is one of the most striking of the many striking lines in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece King Lear. Harold Bloom comments on the first instance in which this is said: “Nothing will come from nothing” to Lear means he will withdraw Cordelia’s dowry.  He cannot know that he has prophesied the final emptiness that will afflict his world. In the second instance, Lear is talking with his fool: Fool: Can you make use of nothing, nuncle? Lear: Why, no, boy, nothing can be made out of nothing. Here, Bloom asks the question: “Is Lear on some level cognizant that he is obsessed with ‘nothing’?” Certainly, as Bloom points out in his 2018 book Lear: The Great Image of Authority, Shakespeare’s play is obsessed with it.  He notes: “Nothing” is a term prevalent in this tragedy.  There are thirty-four uses of “nothing” and forty-two of “nature,” “natural,” “unnatural.”  The relationship between nothing and nature is a vexed one throughout Shakespeare and is particularly anguished in The Tragedie of King Lear.  In the Christian argument, God creates nature out of nothingness.  The end of nature, according to the Revelation of St. […]
November 7, 2018

Book review: Three books about Shakespeare —1— “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics” by Stephen Greenblatt

  Donald Trump looms over Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics like one of the Bard’s ghosts, unavoidable, untouched, a dark dream of dread too fearsome to face. In his Acknowledgements section at the book’s end, Greenblatt writes: Not very long ago, though it feels like a century has passed, I sat in a verdant garden in Sardinia and expressed my growing apprehensions about the possible outcome of an upcoming election.  My historian friend Bernhard Jussen asked me what I was doing about it.  “What can I do?” I asked.  “You can write something,” he said.  And so I did. In the next paragraph, he writes: And then, after the election confirmed my worst fears, my wife Ramie Targott and son Harry, listening at the dinner table to my musings about Shakespeare’s uncanny relevance to the political world in which we now find ourselves, urged me to pursue the subject.  And so I have.   Nod-nod-wink-wink Note that Greenblatt writes of his trepidations about “an upcoming election,” and that “the election confirmed my worst fears.” He’s being coy, and that doesn’t help his book.  He’s talking about Donald Trump, but he won’t deign to use the President’s name here or […]
November 5, 2018

Book review: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell

    There is much about Joseph Campbell’s 1948 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces that I find problematic. Campbell displays amazing erudition in this book and a vast knowledge of the mythologies, literatures and sacred writings of cultures from one end of the globe to the other.  Perhaps this is why so much of it, particularly the second half, seems so esoteric and arcane. Perhaps it’s because, intellectually, I can’t keep up with him.  Perhaps it’s because such myths as virgin births don’t resonate with me. For whatever reason, I read the first half of The Hero with a Thousand Faces with great excitement and enjoyment.  By contrast, the second half was heavy sledding.   “His deeds have been good” The book’s first half deals with the archetypal hero’s journey that shows up universally in all cultures — a call to search for some treasure, the endurance of many trials, the winning of that treasure and the return of the hero, much changed, to his or her old setting. For me, the epitome of Campbell’s look at the many ways this hero’s journey plays out in human mythology is his discussion of the Book of Job from the […]
October 31, 2018

Book review: “The Path to Power” by Robert A. Caro

  After 768 pages of text and more than 350,000 words, the reader of Robert A. Caro’s The Path to Power might easily come away wondering: “Well, who was Lyndon B. Johnson?” In this book — the first of what is now expected to be five volumes in a series titled The Years of Lyndon Johnson — Caro writes deeply about many aspects of LBJ’s personality. About Johnson’s flattery of older, powerful men, a latter-day Uriah Heep.  About Johnson’s physical and emotional restlessness. About Johnson’s need to be the center of attention. About Johnson’s ability to attract men of strong skills but weak personalities and his cold use of them, regardless their desires, for his own purposes for decades at a time.  About Johnson’s convoluted relationship with his father, the man in whose footsteps he followed, the man whose mannerisms he copied, the man he once idolized and then came to disdain. About Johnson’s compassion in teaching, for a year, a classroom of Mexican-American children in Cotulla in South Texas near the Mexican border and in obtaining for the isolated farms and towns of the Hill Country, then living a medieval existence, the miracles of electricity. About Johnson’s ability to […]
October 29, 2018

Book review: “Guards! Guards!” by Terry Pratchett

  The high point of Terry Pratchett’s eighth Discworld novel Guards! Guards!, published in 1989, comes when Carrot Ironfoundersson, the six-foot-six-inch dwarf and probationary member of the Ankh-Morpork Watch, arrests the Dragon which is approximately the size of a small battleship and has been terrorizing the city. Which comes before the Dragon’s romantic pas de deux in the sky. But after Captain Sam Vimes has gotten drunk, again. But before Vimes falls in love. But after Discworld readers have been introduced for the first time to Sgt. Fred Colon, who “was the sort of man who, if he took up a military career, would automatically gravitate to the post of sergeant…[or else] looked cut out for something like, perhaps, a sausage butcher; some job where a big red face and a tendency to sweat even in frosty weather were practically part of the specification,” and Cpl. Nobby Nobbs, “a small, bandy-legged man, with a certain resemblance to a chimpanzee who never got invited to tea parties” and about whom “the only reason you couldn’t say…was close to the animal kingdom was that the animal kingdom would get up and walk away.” But before Colon, Nobby, Carrot, Vimes and a growing […]
October 23, 2018

Book review: “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens

  Among the many distinctive characters in David Copperfield, I have a soft spot in my heart for Jane Murdstone. Actually, that’s wrong.  It’s not so much a soft spot for her.  It’s for the way Charles Dickens makes it clear who this woman is. David is still a very young boy.  His mother Clara has just remarried.  His stepfather — one might as well say “evil stepfather” — Edward Murdstone has Clara under his thumb.  Even so, he calls in his spinster sister as a reinforcement: It was Miss Murdstone who was arrived, and a gloomy-looking lady she was; dark, like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face and voice; and with very heavy eyebrows, nearly meeting over her large nose, as if, being disabled by the wrongs of her sex from wearing whiskers, she had carried them to that account. She brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the coachman she took her money out of a hard steel purse, and she kept the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a heavy chain, and shut […]
October 22, 2018

Book review: “The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter” by Wendy Cotter CSJ

  Twice in her 2010 book The Christ of the Miracle Stories, Wendy Cotter tells this story about the Roman emperor Hadrian: He was on a journey, and a woman on the roadside asked him to speak to him. “I haven’t time,” he said, brushing her off. “Cease, then, being emperor!” she cried out with sharp sarcasm. He stopped, went back and talked with her. This, Cotter says, is an example of the virtue of epieikeia, the willingness to hear — really hear — the words of someone else, even someone considered by society inferior in some way, and to recognize the wisdom in the person’s words. As the leader of the Roman empire in the early 100s, Hadrian was the most powerful man on earth.  Yet, in this and other incidents, he showed an open-mindedness in dealing with other people, a readiness to take in opinions and ideas that were different from those he held.   “Spunky, noisy, pushy and outrageous” It may seem odd to start off a review of a book about Jesus with an anecdote about a Roman emperor.  Yet, this story is an example of the way that Cotter has mined the documents of the […]
October 18, 2018

Book review: “The Mouse that Roared” by Leonard Wibberley

The Mouse that Roared, a comic, satirical, even silly novel by Leonard Wibberley, was published in 1955, a decade after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. As one character notes, however, the end of the war didn’t bring peace. Indeed, Cold War tensions were high and getting higher, and everyone around the world was living under the pall of nuclear threat. So, this seemingly frivolous book with its outlandish premise — that the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, the smallest nation in the world, hoping to reap a miniature Marshall Plan, attacks the U.S. in a war it plans to lose, but unaccountably wins — is an oddly unsettling read for a citizen of 2018. The Q-bomb That’s because the plot centers on the Q-bomb, the only one in the world, developed by an American scientist and grabbed by the duchy’s invasion force when, as luck would have it, the couple dozen soldiers landed in Manhattan during a major air raid practice when virtually everyone was dutifully underground. One of the few exceptions is Dr. Alfred Kokintz who is taken as a prisoner of war along with his bomb. When the force and […]
October 17, 2018

Book review: “Murder on the Links” by Agatha Christie

Much of Agatha Christie 1923 mystery Murder on the Links seems, nearly a century after its publication, pretty hokey. There is a drawing-room, stage-set feel to its scenes, and Christie’s characters always seem to be over-acting: the loveable doofus Captain Arthur Hastings; Monsieur Giraud, the supremely arrogant Parisian detective who flashes his modern methods with the same élan as he does his disdain; the mysterious young woman Hastings dubs “Cinderella” with her “modern girl” manners and brightness; and, of course, Hercule Poirot, the retired Belgian detective who, as a private investigator, is persnickety in solving unsolvable crimes through the application of his “gray cells.” Murder on the Links has many more characters than those four, more than a few with more than one name, and they come across as roles that are being filled rather than as human beings. Indeed, the formulaic quality of the story and Christie’s writing had me wondering midway through the novel how she put her puzzle together so that it would be attractively puzzling. I wondered if she came up with the ending and then worked backwards to make things so muddy that no one could come up with the answer until Poirot pontificated. I […]
October 15, 2018

Book Review: Two Books about Dying — 2 — “Advice for Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying” by Sallie Tisdale

  Over the years, I’ve read a fair number of books about death, but I found Sallie Tisdale’s Advice for Future Corpses so rich and powerful that, by the time I got through the first couple chapters, I’d ordered a copy for my wife. I wanted her to read the book so, together, we could think about the questions and issues that Tisdale raises.  And I wanted her to have her own copy so she’d have it handy when needed. Note, I didn’t say “if and when.”  Death is a “when” for me and for you and for all of us.   “Hard to deny” Tisdale doesn’t let the reader forget this. When it comes to the process of dying, she doesn’t flinch from talking about pain and intrusive friends and loose bowels and fear and burial and denial and coercive family members and cremation.  Consider this paragraph: “Despite many costs, for a grieving person cremation can have a kind of stark beauty.  George Bernard Shaw watched his mother’s body enter the crematorium, feet-first: ‘The feet burst miraculously into streaming ribbons of garnet colored lovely flame, smokeless and eager, like pentacostal tongues,” he wrote, “and as the whole coffin passed […]
October 10, 2018

Book Review: Two Books about Dying — 1 — “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter” By Sherwin B. Nuland

Samuel Johnson, that great English expert on words, once wrote: “Hope is itself a species of happiness, and perhaps the chief happiness which this word affords.” Sherwin B. Nuland highlights that quote in his 1994 book How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. He highlights the idea of hope in a book about the inevitability of death. But how can human beings be hopeful — how can they be happy — when they know that, sooner or later, they will die? That’s the beautiful paradox of Nuland’s great book.  Death helps us be hopeful.  Death helps us be happy. Without death, we would be bored.   We’re not eternal Think of it:  If you had an eternal existence, what difference would it make if today is sunny?  Or if the tree outside your window is blooming?  Or if you took a trip to Paris this year?  Or if children were playing on the sidewalk outside your home? A sunny day would be just another of an infinite series of sunny days to come, and the tree would be just one of an infinite series of trees that will bloom.  Paris will always be there, anytime.  And the children?  Youth […]
October 8, 2018

Essay: In praise of the backup catcher

  Throughout this major league baseball season, I’ve been cheering on one particular player — Austin Romine. Never heard of him?  Not surprising.  He’s the backup catcher of the New York Yankees and rarely gets featured in a television highlight or in a print or online headline.  Nonetheless, after each Yankee game, I’ve looked at the box score with burning questions:  Had Romine gotten a hit, perhaps a homer?  Had he gone 0 for 4?  Had he even played?   Smart and tough Like many major league catchers, Romine is both tough and smart.  He runs the bases with a stiff back reminiscent of catcher Carlton Fisk’s baserunning during his Chicago White Sox days.  Romine had a bumpy time finding a place on the Yankee roster and, at one point, was offered on waivers to every other team.  No one wanted him. I’ve watched his career partially because — to the mystification of my friends and family — I, despite being a lifelong Chicagoan, am a Yankee fan.  (Let’s leave that story for another time.)  If I were a White Sox fan, I’d probably be cheering for backup catcher Kevan Smith. In the last couple seasons, Romine has found himself […]
October 5, 2018

Poem: “How puzzle the prayer”

    How puzzle the prayer   Walking seminary fields, silent-hour recollection days, calloused caress of color and blaze, sharp tender bright air slicing wet morning grass.   Filled with wide light.   How steel my legs? How blade the grip lack? How bell the jerk and jag of breath?   How pipe the foreign? How altar the yearn? How street the knowledge of death?   How ocean the benediction? How rosary the examination? How sculpture the confession?   I confess.  I crucify. I abjure. I sacrifice.   Prophet’s blood off rawed skin to splat road dust, paste for blind eyes and full stomachs. Blessed are the lost.   Lauds. Compline. Psalm-song. Psalm of David. Psalm of the great empty white.   My God, my God, why?   How architecture the touch?   I will go to the table of the Lord. Break my bread. Spill my wine. Wash my sins. White my garments. Angel my innocent’s neck. Good news, good news. Call me blessed.   How ghost the surrender?   Patrick T. Reardon 10.5.18   “How puzzle the prayer” was originally published on 6.21.18 by Under a Warm Green Linden.  
October 3, 2018

Essay: Why write?

  Since the age of 12 when I had my first byline on a Father’s Day essay in the neighborhood newspaper, I’ve been addicted to writing. Over the years, I’ve loved seeing my byline on literally thousands of Chicago Tribune stories, and on countless freelance pieces, and on the covers of my eight books. But that’s not what I’m hooked on.  I’m addicted to the challenge of taking some aspect of the chaos of our existence and making sense of it by putting a bunch of words down on a page, whether physical or digital, in a manner that is clear and maybe playful, pleasing and informative. I enjoy the idea that stuff I write helps readers better understand the world in which we all live.  That’s an important reason I write, but, even more, I write to help myself better understand the world, better understand life.   Hard work and delight Norman Mailer once said something to the effect that he didn’t know what he thought about anything until he wrote about it.  That’s the experience I have.  I get to know myself, and to define myself, in the act of writing. Writing is hard work.  It’s a strain […]
October 1, 2018

Book Review: “The Plan of Chicago” By Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett

  I’m a card-carrying nerd and a guy who, during a long career at the Chicago Tribune and later in other forums, has written much about cities and demographics.  And I just love reading reports, statistics and plans. There are two reasons for this: First, I can mine these documents for facts that reveal to me, in some way, how people go about or have gone about their lives. Example: a collection of maps showing the changing settlement patterns of various immigrant groups in Chicago over a series of decades. Second, most offer an analysis of some aspect of life and a vision, at least implicitly, of how it can be better. For instance: reports on the hypersegregation of whites and blacks in Chicago. One report, however, rises head-and-shoulders above all the others I’ve read — the 1909 Plan of Chicago by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, known also as the Burnham Plan.   A touchstone I’ve dealt with it as an important historic document, but also as a living document since it has been a touchstone for all sorts of plans for Chicago and the metropolitan region over the past 100-plus years. Virtually every attempt to analyze […]
September 28, 2018

Book review: “Island of the Sequined Love Nun” by Christopher Moore

  As usual, Christopher Moore is goofy and silly in Island of the Sequined Love Nun, his fourth novel, published in 1997. Consider the back story of his central character Tucker Case who, Moore tells us, grew up in Elsinore, California, the only son of the owner of the Denmark Silverware Corporation.  Tuck’s girlfriend was Zoophilia Gold, the daughter of his father’s lawyer, “a lovely girl made shy by a cruel first name.” Tuck was away at college in Texas when he got the call from his mother: “Come home.  Your father’s dead.”  He drove home in two days and called Zoophilia who “informed him that his mother had married his father’s brother and his uncle had taken over Denmark Silverware.” If this is sounding at all familiar, it’s supposed to.   Twisting to his own purposes This, I think, was Moore’s first foray into paying homage to — well, let’s be honest, absconding with, beating over the head and twisting to his own purposes — some of the greatest stories in Western civilization. He followed these Hamlet references here with an entire book of his wacky version of King Lear (Fool), a mash-up of the Merchant of Venice and […]
September 26, 2018

Book review: “Barchester Towers” by Anthony Trollope

  Barchester Towers, like the other five novels in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barset, is characterized by psychological nuance and an affection for humanity in all its waywardness. There are novels written by authors who don’t like their characters — not a one of them.  Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom comes to mind.  Most writers like at least some of the people who populate their stories. Trollope likes all of his characters, even the bossy bully Mrs. Proudie who takes up a lot of pages of Barchester Towers, and Mr. Slope, the oily, conniving liar who takes up even more. When I say “likes,” I mean “understands.”  Trollope understands the weak bishop’s wife and the weak bishop’s chaplain as fully rounded, many-layered human beings.  They do a lot of bad and mean things, but none of Trollope’s characters is all bad.   Curious and lovable It’s a measure of the author’s affection for the human race that he can tell of the depredations of these two with more of a touch of humane forbearance, as if to say, “Aren’t people just so curious? And, at the same time, lovable?” Mean-spirited or gentle-minded, Trollope’s people can’t help but get themselves into trouble, can’t […]
September 24, 2018

Book review: “Pyramids” by Terry Pratchett

    So, it’s nearly the final page of Terry Pratchett’s 1989 Discworld novel Pyramids, and his recurring character, called Death (because he is), suddenly finds himself with a problem: THIS IS MOST IRREGULAR. We’re sorry.  It’s not our fault. HOW MANY OF YOU ARE THERE? More than 1,300, I’m afraid. VERY WELL, THEN.  PLEASE FORM AN ORDERLY QUEUE.   Small and dark and boring There is Pyramids in a nutshell.  For thousands of years, the kings and queens of Djelibeybi, the Discworld version of Egypt, have, upon death, had to put up with their bodies being locked up within pyramids. Each found himself or herself in a space that was small and dark and, worst of all, boring, dead but never freed by Death — that rather bony character with the hood and scythe — to go do whatever a spirit does after its body is finished. All this begins to come to an end when 19-year-old Teppic, having just won a degree from the Assassin’s Guild in Anhk-Morpork (which means he survived his final exam), learns that his father has died, and he must come home to be king.  Home to a nation that Pratchett describes in this […]
September 12, 2018

Book review: “Brunelleschi’s Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence” by Ross King

    Okay, I recognize that — as Ross King writes in Brunelleschi’s Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence — building the dome over the long-undomed Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral had become, by the early 15th century, “the greatest architectural puzzle of the age.” And I see that, in solving that puzzle, Filippo Brunelleschi not only fashioned a great work of art — the dome remains the tallest and widest ever created without modern materials — but also raised the status of architect above the level of manual worker to that of the artist.  King writes: Largely through his looming reputation, the profession was transformed during the Renaissance from a mechanical into a liberal art, from an art that was viewed as “common and low” to one that could be regarded as a noble occupation at the heart of the cultural endeavor. Even more, Brunelleschi’s feat gave new meaning to the word “genius.”  King writes: Before Filippo’s time the faculty of genius was never attributed to architects (or to sculptors and painters, either, for that matter).  But Marsuppini’s epitaph refers to Filippo as possessing divino ingenio, “divine genius,” marking the first recorded instance of an architect […]
September 10, 2018

Book review: “Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling” by Ross King

It’s a daunting task to write the story of the creation of a work of art and, even more, for one that comprises a multiplicity of art works. After all, the work — Shakespeare’s King Lear or Emily Dickinson’s “I taste a liquor never brewed” or Joyce’s Ulysses or Piano Sonata No. 11 by Mozart — speaks for itself. To know about Lear, you watch Lear.  Any prose written as a commentary runs the risk of sounding like so much wasted breath. How much more intimidating is it, then, to write a book about how Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, came to be? A masterpiece with 150-plus pictorial units, including more than 300 individual figures, many of which are considered masterpieces in their own right? Masterpieces that are among the most popular and ubiquitous of art images in the Western culture?   Delightfully interesting In Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling, Ross King faces these many challenges, and he triumphs.  His 2003 book is delightfully interesting, informative, inspiring and thought-provoking. King’s book explains without being boring.  It gets into nitty-gritty details without bogging down.  It gives the larger-than-life personalities of its three main characters, Michelangelo, Raphael and Pope […]