Just finished reading Basilica: The Splendor and The Scandal: Building St Peter’s, by R. A. Scotti. I saw it lying on a table in the book shop, and thought, “hmm… architecture, history, scandal, Rome… why not?” It was a quick read, thankfully, as it was ultimately also a disappointing one.

The history is weak, the writing is simplistic, and the author relies too much on dramatised accounts of meetings between the protagonists in the story, and too little on first-hand accounts of what actually happened. At one point, the writing seemed so unidiomatic that I found myself checking whether the book had, in fact, been translated from Italian into English, but no, it appears to have been written in English.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on a book that is, after all, a popular history. But the coverage of the architectural and artistic details is so simplistic as to be practically worthless, and the historical backdrop of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation is simplified to the point of irrelevance (one one hand the author seems to assume too much background knowledge for readers of a popular history, and on the other provides far too little meat for the more serious reader). On the plus side, Scotti does an adequate job of bringing some of the larger-than-life personalities to life, and reading the book has made me want to visit Rome again soon!


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