The role of books in the Florentine Renaissance.

In his latest, King revisits Florence, the setting for Bruneschelli’s Dome. In 1433, on a street that was “at the very center of Florence’s manuscript trade,” 11-year-old Vespasiano da Bisticci began a “long and astounding career as a maker of books and a merchant of knowledge.” Known to many as the “king of the world’s booksellers,” the bright and amiable Vespasiano was well positioned to become friends with some of the city’s most influential and book-loving citizens, including Pope Eugenius IV and Cosimo de’ Medici. Besides making magnificent, illustrated books for wealthy customers and assisting them in building their libraries, Vespasiano’s main claim to fame, argues King, was his own book, The Lives of 103 Illustrious Men, which Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt used as a primary reference for his influential The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860). Vespasiano wrote about important manuscript hunters who unearthed ancient texts that were vital to literary and historical scholarship. He became an expert on the manuscripts and authors and traveled to inspect private libraries and make purchases for his bookshop and wealthy clients, took commissions to help stock important libraries, and hired copyists to reproduce manuscripts. King discusses in lavish detail how scribes copied manuscripts and illustrators produced illuminated decorations. The development of new scripts allowed speedier copying; one Florentine copyist could produce 20 pages, front and back, in two days. “The 1460s,” writes the author, “witnessed a higher production of manuscripts in Europe than at any point in history.” Throughout, King deftly navigates Florence’s rich cultural and political history, painting intimate portraits of Vespasiano and others involved in the book world during these incredible times, including the man who would revolutionize it all, Johannes Gutenberg. Vespasiano’s fascinating and expansive story occasionally sags under the weight of the author’s desire to leave no detail unturned.

A treat for book lovers.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5852-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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