FORTUNE IS A RIVER by Roger D. Masters

FORTUNE IS A RIVER

Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolï Machiavelli's Magnificent Dream to Change the Course of Florentine History

KIRKUS REVIEW

A curious work based on speculation and conjecture more than documents, yet interesting in its own way. Although historians have long speculated that Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolï Machiavelli knew each other and perhaps collaborated on a fantastic project to transform Florence into a seaport by diverting the Arno River, little evidence survives to reconstruct the story. Masters (Government/Dartmouth) makes a valiant attempt to do so, and that lack of documentation allows him to weave a fanciful tale. With the discovery of the “New World” shifting the economic focus of Europe to the Atlantic and away from the Italian city-states, Florence was desperate to reassert its dominance in European trade. On a smaller scale, the “Athens of Italy” was in a perpetual state of war with its neighboring city-states, especially Milan, Venice, Pisa, Lucca, and the papacy. Focusing more on Leonardo’s capacities as a brilliant military technician rather than as an artist and Machiavelli’s responsibilities as administrator and diplomat for Florence rather than his role as political theorist, Masters recounts their failed attempt to divert the Arno by building a series of canals that would transform Florence into a seaport, allowing the city to engage in the trans-Atlantic trade. At the same time, the diversion of the Arno would deprive the city of Pisa of a necessary water supply, thereby forcing its defeat and Florence’s domination of Tuscany. As might be expected from the lack of evidence, only a small part of this short book is devoted to the actual project; most of the narrative is taken up with introducing Leonardo’s genius in constructing military defense systems and urban planning while uncovering Machiavelli’s career as Florentine diplomat and administrator. Although readers might be frustrated at the slight reconstruction of the project, they will be rewarded with a behind-the-scenes look at Renaissance society: its spying, treachery, machinations, striving for power and patrons, and a more human portrait of both protagonists. Readers might recall Machiavelli’s famous aphorism, “Fortune is a woman that sometimes has to be taken by force before she has a chance to resist”; here they will find one of the more curious collaborations in history to take Fortune. (illustrations)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-84452-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998




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