History as it should be: informative but also lively, thrilling, and hugely entertaining.



A vivid, dramatic account of conspiracy and murder in 15th-century Florence.

One of the most illustrious dynasties of the Renaissance, the Medici began their ascension in a city-state reeling from debt and high taxes after years of expensive warfare. Within three generations, they had established a merchant bank and a commodities empire that made them the richest family in Florence. Through brilliant political machinations—Machiavelli is generally supposed to have been inspired by them when he wrote The Prince—they became the leaders of the so-called Florentine republic. The Medici dynasty culminated in Lorenzo the Magnificent; aggressive and ruthless, he was also a brilliant poet and a lavish patron who commissioned works from great artists and composers of the day. Lorenzo’s tyranny inevitably fostered discontent and cabal. Members of the Pazzi, an older Florentine family resentful of the parvenu Medici, attempted to assassinate Lorenzo in the city’s cathedral on an April Sunday in 1478. They failed but managed to kill his younger brother Giuliano. An enraged Lorenzo struck back, and through a virtuoso admixture of murder and legislation virtually eliminated the Pazzi’s existence. Renaissance historian Martines (Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy, not reviewed) tells the story with a breathless enthusiasm that is infectious. He has walked the Florentine streets and buildings many times, conveying the agreeable impression of a personal tour. This story is not for the squeamish, however. It was a hideously violent era, and Martines does not flinch when describing the gruesome punishments meted out to the Pazzi conspirators and their innocent relatives. The only minor flaw occurs in the chapter describing the attempted assassination, where the unnecessary reintroduction of the main players suggests that the author originally intended it as the first chapter.

History as it should be: informative but also lively, thrilling, and hugely entertaining.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-19-515295-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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