Tim Parks, Author . Norton/Atlas $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-393-05827-7

The Renaissance, so often seen as a clean break with the medieval past, was really an age of creative ambivalence and paradox. In this marvelously fresh addition to the Enterprise series, Parks, author of the Booker-listed Europa and a literary observer of modern Italian life, turns to Florence and to a particularly compelling contradiction. The spirit of capitalist enterprise that fostered cultural originality and underpinned patronage was accompanied by a Christian conviction that money was a source of evil and that usury was a damnable spiritual offense. In the space where this cultural conflict plays out, sometimes as stylized as one of Lorenzo Il Magnifico's tournaments, sometimes as life-threateningly fiery as Savonarola's sermons against worldly vanities, we find a world both akin to our own and almost incomprehensibly distant. Parks is a clear-eyed guide to the ambiguities of Florentine culture, equally attentive to the intricacies of international exchange rates, the spiritual neurosis about unearned income, the shocking bawdiness of Lorenzo's carnival songs and the realpolitik of 15th-century power. His prose is swift and economical, cutting to the chase. Like the Medici-commissioned funerary monument for the anti-Pope John XXIII, the effect is startlingly vibrant, resembling "those moments in Dante's Inferno when one of the damned ceases merely to represent this or that sin and becomes a man or woman with a complex story, someone we are interested in, sympathetic towards." (May)

Reviewed on: 04/04/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-86197-757-1
Paperback - 273 pages - 978-0-393-32845-5
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-84765-687-2
Show other formats
Discover what to read next