Review: Death in Florence by Paul Strathern

I picked this book up on a bit of a whim when I was off sick from work. I’d had a really rough couple of weeks and needed cheering up. Plus, I adore Paul Strathern’s work on the Medici and thought his book on Cesare Borgia, Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli was top notch. When I saw this beauty on Amazon for less than a tenner I knew I just had to have it. I have to say that this book has also proven to be a rather excellent bible when it has come to working on my book. But anyway, I digress. I should be reviewing this book and not gushing about how it’s been awesome for my own research.
Anyway, from the moment this tome of a book arrived I devoured it. The book, in a nutshell, tells the story of Girolamo Savonarola – right from his early years up until his rather grisly death. Mixed in with that you have the stories of Lorenzo de Medici’s death, Piero de Medici’s flight from Florence (he never returned) and Charles VIII and his relationship with the Dominican friar. Right from the first sentence I was hooked, Strathern’s writing style certainly doesn’t fail to disappoint. He writes with an amazing fluidity and tells these most fascinating stories in an exceptional manner yet retaining that academic manner that makes his books so readable. 
What surprised me when I was reading this was how much was going on in the background of Savonarola’s life, and how his life was so interconnected with the politics of the day. For instance, Girolamo decided to become a friar at a time when Ferrara was going to war with other Italian states. He also paid exceedingly close attention to Charles VIII of France and his invasion of Italy, even going as far as to meet up with Charles and convince the deformed little man that he would be the scourge of Italy. Sadly, Charles let him down and didn’t prove that he would be the “New Cyrus” but Savonarola also kept abreast of political goings on in Florence and also had a close say in the new government after Piero de Medici’s flight. And Strathern did a wonderful job of interweaving everything so the story ran smoothly, it was so interesting reading how Savonarola’s life and work mixed in with everything else that was going on. It really was such an intricate web of politics at that time that it could have been so easy to make the story dry and boring, but Strathern did a really good job of telling the stories in an engaging manner.
Superbly written and engaging, I don’t want to go into too much detail as you really need to read this book to understand that it really is a masterpiece. I’ll say it til the cows come home, Paul Strathern is one of my favourite Renaissance historians (next to Christopher Hibbert) and he’s just fantastic. Of course his works aren’t perfect, but this one is as close to perfect as you can get. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of Renaissance Italy and in particularly, Renaissance Florence.

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