An illuminating look at how the flowering of human imagination celebrated in the Renaissance was fertilized by the excesses...

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THE UGLY RENAISSANCE

SEX, GREED, VIOLENCE AND DEPRAVITY IN AN AGE OF BEAUTY

Lee (Petrarch and St. Augustine: Classical Scholarship, Christian Theology and the Origins of the Renaissance in Italy, 2012, etc.) lays bare the base tendencies and avaricious impulses that undergirded much of the Renaissance’s artistic splendor.

Seeking to expose “the hidden story behind the paintings that have come to dominate perceptions of the Renaissance in Italy,” the author, a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick, turns his gaze from 15th-century Florence’s fabled facades downward to its sewage-filled alleys and the troubled lives of their inhabitants. Focusing progressively on the lived experiences of the period’s artists, the designs of their patrons and the broader political tendencies reshaping the continent, Lee provides an entertaining frolic buttressed by serious scholarship. Though the author makes rather too much of the originality of his thesis—few who have heard of the Borgias or de’ Medicis will be surprised that the paragons of high finance and religious authority were “shallow [and] underhanded” and “corrupt, deceitful, and cunning”—his account of a teenage Michelangelo having his nose broken by a jealous classmate and similar vignettes serve to humanize the figures who today seem to have been carved of the very marble with which they worked. Violence pervaded all levels of society, and fisticuffs were by no means limited to adolescence. As the author notes, the 1458 papal conclave was not a solemn ritual so much as “a violent, corrupt, and angry brawl that would shame even a modern rugby club.” The artwork itself reflects the prevalence of fleshly desires; blatantly pornographic frescoes at the Palazzo Farnese demonstrate what popes and cardinals preferred “when they were left to their own devices away from the public gaze.”

An illuminating look at how the flowering of human imagination celebrated in the Renaissance was fertilized by the excesses of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0385536592

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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