For history, art and architecture buffs consider:http://www.amazon.com/Basilica-Splendor-Scandal-Building-Peters/dp/0670037761
The building of the Basilica in Rome is like a who's who of Renaissance biggies: Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Galileo, Bellini. And they don't just get mentioned, they all interacted. At one point Raphael was working in one room while Michelangelo was painting his famous chapel ceiling on the other side of the door (he was assigned the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to embarrass him because supposedly it could not be done...). They hated one another.
Weirdly the engineering that built the Roman empire was lost completely. Bramante had to re-discover how to make the bricks and cement used in the Roman architecture. His lesson books were the ruins of buildings made 1200 years before. He had to re-invent the engineering math and mechanics of building. It was all lost.
The author makes the shocking point that since most of the populace was illiterate, "art" was the mass media and social communication system of the day. That is why the Sistine chapel and the various friezes and the sculpture is so detailed. It had to communicate as clearly as the written or spoken word.
In all the building is a monument to the ideals of art...ideals that survived in spite of the nonsense of men (and other artists).