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Review of The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond

dillon_story of buildingsstar2 The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond
by Patrick Dillon; 
illus. by Stephen Biesty
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    96 pp.
3/14    978-0-7636-6990-4    $19.99

Beginning with an ingratiatingly brief historical summary of how the human need for shelter brought us from caves to high-rises, Dillon and Biesty then circle back to provide more detailed attention to particular eras (Ancient Greece, seventeenth-century India), zooming in on one notable structure (the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal). A diverse selection of buildings are highlighted, from the Pyramid of Djoser through the Hagia Sophia through the Crystal Palace to the Pompidou Center, with most being given a splendid gatefold cross-section illustration. Working with colored pencil, Biesty uses a gentler line than in his hyperattentive Cross-Sections books, but there’s no loss of detail: you could, if so inclined, count the steps leading up to the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. Each picture is thoroughly but unobtrusively annotated, and Dillon and Biesty use the verso of each gatefold page to explicate a feature germane to that building: an explanation of reinforced concrete for Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, for example. The main text has a nice narrative flow that links the buildings and eras together, and Dillon has a gift for evocation (“the columns and arches [of Notre-Dame] beat a rhythm that echoed around the worshippers like a great stone hymn”) as well as explanation (“Arches push outward onto the walls they stand on. To keep the walls from falling, engineers strengthen them with buttresses that push back in”). Read chronologically, the book provides a modest social and political account of (mostly) European history, but its absorbing pictures and spacious design invite you to start where you like. You’ll go back for more. An index and a timeline, fascinating in its own right, are appended.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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