The turbulence of Renaissance Italy chronicled through the dynastic fortunes of the Aragonese Borgias -- those splendid tyrants whom Machiavelli honored in The Prince. Fusero, who takes the family from its hazy origins in Spain to the sumptuous glories of Alexander VI's pontificate, champions their daring, arrogance and political skill while dismissing as petty moralists those historians who have stressed the simony, treachery, incest, fratricide, nepotism and greed which marked the family's dizzying ascent. Alexander, whom Fusero admires above all the Borgia bastards and uncles and cousins, is credited with two overriding noble ambitions which redeem all his blemishes. Foremost, says Fusero, it was he who restored the temporal might of the Church which had been hopelessly and ludicrously discredited during the Great Schism and the Avignon Captivity. (Withal he is forced, most reluctantly, to concede that Alexander's successes were achieved against the tide of history and thus helped' fuel the Protestant Reformation.) Alexander is further credited with attempting singlehandedly to kindle the fires of Italian nationalism which had been all but extinguished among the self-seeking, opportunistic Italian States. He suggests that the despot pope might have succeeded in permanently expelling the French and ending the ceaseless struggles over the Kingdom of Naples (the Borgias' nemesis) but for his insatiable son Cesare whose ambition destroyed everything his father had built. Although imputing motives of patriotism to the dynastic-minded Borgias is historically anachronistic, Fusero's book does have the virtue of recreating with considerable elan the pleasure-loving, power-crazed world of 15th century Italy. Poisonings, disembowelments, Savanarola's rantings, and the recurrent plague set the scene for the alliances, invasions, broken treaties, excommunications, and grotesque marriages which constituted the politics of the day. The novice to Renaissance history will have difficulty orienting himself in this crowded and bloody canvas but the melodrama and pageantry should sustain his interest nonetheless.