Rarely, perhaps once in a generation, does an enterprising scholar step forth with a truly novel research idea and the capacity to see it through. Pierre de la Rufinière du Prey’s The Villas of Pliny from Antiquity to Posterity is just this: an utterly fascinating, deliciously composed, and copiously illustrated treatment of a neglected theme in architectural history. Although it is the author’s object to document the perennial allure for post-medieval architects of Pliny the Younger’s literary picture of villa life in ancient Rome, the book’s overall theme could be equally understood as the enduring architectural potency of one man’s idea of “the good life.” Du Prey succeeds triumphantly both in the close compass of the historian’s exercise and in broader quality-of-life issues.

The book opens with a leisurely literary examination of Pliny’s Como letters and proceeds to...


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