There is a genre of books that I call "short and sweet nonfiction." Rather than the 1,000 page exhaustive look at a subject, these little tomes take a subject and dissect it in nice, easily readable couple hundred pages. One excellent example of this style is Longitude by Dava Sobel, which I recall favorably reviewing some time ago.
The latest of these that I have had the pleasure reading is Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King. This 167 page look at how Fillipo Brunelleschi created the vast dome of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is excellent.
I've always known that The Duomo was a famous building, and indeed it's hard to find a photo of Florence that doesn't include the iconic dome towering over the city. What I didn't know was that it remains the largest masonry dome in the world. Even domes built later, like St. Peter's in the Vatican, or even the U.S. Capital building, are not as large as Brunelleschi's effort.
Not only did Fillipo build the largest dome the world has ever seen, he built it in a most unorthodox way, without the supporting wooden centering that had long been used in cathedral construction. He used a multitude of breakthroughs to achieve this, including new construction techniques, and a multitude of radical machines that made everything about the building of the cathedral revolutionary. Indeed, so successful where his hoist and crane designs, and his rules against the masons drinking wine during their lunch, that only one man died during the 16 year construction of the dome. For any major construction project, even today, that is amazing. After all, 112 people died during the building of Hoover Dam!
Anybody interested in history, art, architecture, cathedrals, or the Renaissance will devour Brunelleschi's Dome. I loved the book, and it has made me very excited for my upcoming excursion to Italy, as I will get to see (and photograph) the whole massive dome for myself!