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



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


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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