The Agony and the Ecstasy aroused considerable curiosity and interest in the sources tapped by Irving Stone in preparation for this fictional biography of Michelangelo. This volume, based on the nearly 500 letters extant and never translated in toto into English, provides part of the answer. Stone secured after considerable endeavor one of the rare copies of the collection published in Florence on the 400th anniversary of Michelangelo's birth. He had this translated by a scholar, the founder of the Italian Department at the University of California, Dr. Charles Speroni. The material was then rearranged so as to provide a chronological record -- from July 1496 to the approach of death in December 1563- with one brief gap from Rome, 1534-37, during which he was working on the Sistine altar and the Last Judgment, and deeply in love with a young Roman noblewoman, Vittoria Colonna, a poet with whom he exchanged many poems. Through the letters one learns much of Michelangelo's struggles to attain his goals, of his overwhelming love for sculpture as contrasted with painting, of his family responsibilities throughout his life, of persons, places art works of his times, of the contracts made-and broken, the purchase of supplies, and, everlastingly, the problem of payment- and funds to carry on and meet demands made on him. His hardships emerge- the problems relating to property, to use of quarries, to political issues that resulted now in exile, now in recall. It adds depth of understanding -- but leaves the reader fully aware of how much more went into the rounding out of his story, the creative work attendant on forming a vital and rounded figure- flesh from these bones.