A CROWN OF FIRE: The Life & Times of Girolamo Savonarola by Pierre Van Paassen

A CROWN OF FIRE: The Life & Times of Girolamo Savonarola

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While Savonarola appears as a towering figure in books set against the Florentine background of the 15th century (from Romola on), this happens to be the first fully rounded biography this reader has encountered. The scope of Savonarola's influence- in the political, and for the times international and diplomatic areas, as well as the religious and ethical fields- comes as a startling discovery. To Savonarola goes the credit for ridding Florence of her tyrants, the Medicis, for building the groundwork and the framework of a democracy- far in advance of the times, for changing the social pattern. That Florence went through agonies of rebirth, through bloody violence of retribution, through reaction as heinous as the moral sewers from which Savonarola sought to rescue her- all this is evident, too. But Florence -- beloved of Fra Girolamo beyond all else except his God -- comes alive. One walks the streets, stands in the squares, joins the throngs in the churches and the duomo, senses the mercurial moods of the people and joins the admiration- if not the adulation- for Savonarola, as one turns the pages. Where Van Paassen fails is in holding his focus on the life and times; continually, he- as the historian- injects himself, either by bringing the future into his picture, or by commenting- somewhat out of context, or by changing his tenses, in a way that makes the reading awkward and stumbling. But in the final analysis, he has written a stirring book and recreated a vital figure.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1960
Publisher: Scribner