This is the best light-reading books I’ve read in the last couple of years. Bought it from “the best bookstore in New England”, Northshire in Manchester, VT during our ski vacation (why weren’t we skiing?). It caught my eyes in the bookstore because of its peculiar shape–it’s the only non-rectangular book we have now!

The short book starts with the latest restoration efforts from 1990 to 2001 lead by a commission, the 17th in 700 hundred years (the first in 1298), and breaks back to recount the history of Pisa at the point which the tower suddenly tilted 4mm more due to the construction. What a cliffhanger!

The book is a nice integrated piece that wraps everything related to the leaning tower together in a smooth way: Pisa history, the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines leagues, building of the tower and the other masterpieces in Campo dei Miracoli, Galileo, Shelley and Byron, etc. The most pleasant surprise is that it expels the well ingrained story of Galileo dropping two iron balls of different sizes from the top of the tower to prove Aristotle wrong. Turns out that the story is most likely fabricated by Viviani, Galileo’s disciple and note-keeper during Galileo’s last years. It’s such an idiomatic image that the young and fearless Galileo dropping the balls on ancient folly, heralding in a new era of science and humanity from the most recognizable architecture in the world that it’s very hard not to believe it’s true. I remember learning essays of this in both Chinese and English textbooks during my high school years.

Another fascinating thing that I didn’t know, this time true, is that there was a short period of time (1818-1822) when a few self-exiled English Romanticists and some other friends formed the Pisa Circle, among whom are the Shelleys and Lord Byron. Shelley and a friend drowned in the Gulf of Spezia, and Byron cremated their bodies on the beath at Viareggio, north of Pisa. What a scene that was, as Byron described, “on a desolate shore, with mountains in the background and the sea before, and the singular appearance the salt and frankincense gave to the flame.”