Densely detailed but highly readable—a fine one-volume survey of the Italian Renaissance.

THE BEAUTY AND THE TERROR

THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE AND THE RISE OF THE WEST

A noted scholar of pre-modern Italy recounts a golden age whose effects extend into the present.

In a memoir written in 1575, writes historian Fletcher, an Italian doctor and mathematician named three innovations that had changed the world in his lifetime: “firearms, the compass, and printing.” The first two helped lead the discovery of the world and conquest of parts of it. Italy should have been in a perfect spot to undertake that work, but it was bound up in damaging in-fighting between city-states and principalities and, eventually, in conflicts between larger powers—the Holy Roman Empire versus the Papal States, for instance. Aspects of those conflicts fueled great achievements of the Renaissance, a term that means “rebirth” but in the sense of “raising the dead”: Machiavelli’s The Prince, for example, which “should be read…in the context of the ongoing wars.” Leonardo da Vinci professed to not like war but had no qualms about selling designs for military technology to the Ottomans, the scourge of the Mediterranean. Fletcher employs a large cast of characters, seeking to “arrange them into their galaxy” as she recounts the lives and accomplishments of great men and women and ordinary people alike, the latter of whom were perhaps less scientifically inclined than we might like. When plague struck, leading to the brilliance that was the Decameron, Italian cities expelled their prostitutes not as a direct health measure but because by chasing sin out they might be saved from the worst excesses of avenging angels. Fletcher’s colorful pages are peppered with stories of anti-Semitic cruelty, religious and political reform, “senior managers” like Rodrigo Borgia, and of course Michelangelo. The author constructs a deft portrait of a country and time whose “importance has been defined by culture and ideas more than by wealth and power.”

Densely detailed but highly readable—a fine one-volume survey of the Italian Renaissance.

Pub Date: June 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-090849-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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