An elegant account of the ruling dynasty of an Italian city-state by the author of Italy: The Places Between; Rome: Places and Pleasures; Kate Simon's Paris, etc. Mantua is often overlooked as travellers zip by on their way from Milan to Venice. But it is, to borrow Simon's own phrase, the quintessential place between. There are splendid art treasures (Mantegna) and fascinating ghosts (Isabella D'Este) tucked into this city ""clothed in grey mists that rise from her surrounding waters like veils of antique widowhood."" By tracing Mantua's Gonzaga family, just one of the glistening threads of Italian Renaissance history, Simon manages to illuminate the whole crazy design of warring city-states, plotting popes, invading French. Blending her well-honed skills as a travel writer and popular historian, she packs her narrative with historical gossip and descriptive details. She also interrupts the great progress of the Gonzaga's fortunes with ""interludes"": sketches of artists Alberti and Mantegna and writers Ariosto and Machiavelli; of magic, the theater, and the plague. Simon does not break new historical ground, but she brings to familiar material passion and a lucid prose style. Her book is a pleasure to read.