Fortune is a River: Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli's Magnificent Dream to Change the Course of Florentine History

Roger D. Masters, Author
Roger D. Masters, Author Free Press $23.5 (278p) ISBN 978-0-684-84452-7
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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Providing a remarkable window on the birth of the modern age, this meticulous study examines the little-known collaboration of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccol Machiavelli. The two worked together in Florence between 1503 and 1506, where Machiavelli, the Florentine republic's second chancellor, enlisted Leonardo--then military architect and engineer to warlord Cesare Borgia--in a grandiose scheme to redirect the Arno River's course and make Florence a seaport. Machiavelli's strategic goal was to deprive Florence's bitter rival Pisa of water from the Arno, which flowed through that city. Beyond this, Leonardo envisioned a transformation of the Arno valley into an irrigated flood-control system that would generate wealth and security for Tuscany. Leonardo and Machiavelli also collaborated on the renovation of a fortress and other military projects, yet most of their joint projects--including the ill-conceived scheme to divert the Arno--were failures. Nevertheless, through parallel biographies of his two famed protagonists, Masters, a Dartmouth professor of government, presents architect-inventor Leonardo as a visionary who sought a rational society based on science, while Machiavelli is defended here for his realistic worldview that stressed the inevitability of selfishness and conflict. This surprising dual portrait is beautifully illustrated with Leonardo's architectural and engineering drawings, urban-planning sketches and maps. (June)
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