Format Hardcover
Publication Date 03/05/24
ISBN 9781639365869
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 288

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Saving Michelangelo's Dome

How Three Mathematicians and a Pope Sparked an Architectural Revolution

Wayne Kalayjian

In 1742, when the legendary dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica—designed by Michelangelo—cracks and threatens to collapse, Pope Benedict XIV summons three mathematicians whose groundbreaking ideas spark a revolution in the world of architecture.

1742: the famous dome atop Saint Peter’s Basilica, designed by Michelangelo, is fractured and threatened with collapse. The dome is the pride of Italy and the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. And no one knows how to fix it.

This engaging and colorful narrative tells the overlooked story of how Michelangelo’s Dome was saved from disaster by three mathematicians and Pope Benedict XIV, who had asked them for help. It is a gripping story of decisive leadership, crisis management, and scientific innovation, and the resistance that was faced when sailing into the headwinds of conventional thought.

In Saving Michelangelo's Dome, Stanford-trained engineer Wayne Kalayjian illustrates how new ideas in science and mathematics established an entirely new way of looking at the world—as well as solving its complex problems. In the end, readers will appreciate that in saving Michelangelo’s Dome from collapse, these three mathematicians and one determined pope unknowingly invented the profession of engineering as we practice it today. With it, they transformed the architectural world and ushered in generations of future buildings and structures that, otherwise, would never have been built.

Wayne Kalayjian is a civil and structural engineer who has designed bridges, buildings, tunnels, airports, pipelines, railroads, data centers, and power stations around the world. Kalayjian lectures at the University of Southern California and is an engineering expert for the California Department of Consumer Affairs. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and art history from Tufts University, a master’s degree in structural engineering from Stanford University, and a master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This is his first book.

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Endorsements & Reviews

"A fast and engrossing read. Kalayjian keeps suspense in his entertaining story." The New York Journal of Books
"A marvelous tale, full of vivid characters whom Kalayjian portrays with gusto. Kalayjian has a deft hand at describing both the thrilling cultural currents animating 18th-century Italy, from Newtonian physics to neoclassical art, and the colorful individuals who provided the convivial fizz for that effervescent culture." The American Scholar
“Meticulous and illuminating. Kalayjian’s narrative propulsively blends a chronicle of one of the world’s most famous architectural achievements with the story of the birth of modern engineering.” Publishers Weekly
“Civil and structural engineer Kalayjian narrates the design, construction, and eventual repair of the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Alongside the narration of political and personality conflicts, there’s significant information about the engineering behind the construction and restoration of the dome. An accessible book about the history of the dome that sparked an architectural revolution.” Library Journal
"An intriguing look at how an iconic structure came to be, and the challenges that arose in the years that followed. Kalayjian weaves an intricate story at the intersection of engineering, mathematics, politics, and religion.” Rome Agrawal, structural engineer and author of Nuts and Bolts and Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures
"Telling the story of how Enlightenment-thinking solved a Renaissance problem, Wayne Kalayjian illuminates the beginning of modern engineering in clear, readable prose—and reminds us that progress requires open-minded commitment from those in power." Paul Wobert Walker, author of The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World
“A diverting look at how the challenges of dome-building laid the groundwork for the emergence of engineering as a scientific discipline.” Sarah Hart, author of Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections between Mathematics and Literature
"Ever-enlarging cracks in the dome of St. Peter’s threaten its collapse. This is the compelling tale of those who confronted the danger and the fascinating story of the brilliant mathematicians who rescued it. In the best sense, this is history told as story, as important today as when those dangerous cracks first appeared in the sixteenth century.” William E. Wallace, author of Michelangelo, God's Architect
"Wayne Kalayjian turns a little-known story of architecture, mathematics, and engineering into an engaging and suspenseful tale of scientific pioneers working on the boundaries of knowledge. Told with clarity and insight, the story features a compelling cast of popes, architects, mathematicians—all working to save one of the world’s greatest buildings.” Ross King, author of Leonardo and the Last Supper and Brunelleschi's Dome