Beware prophets and charismatics, warned Machiavelli. And he would know, having watched Savonarola’s brand of ascetic lunacy impede his political career, not to mention Florence’s prosperity and security. In his latest book, Paul Strathern revisits the city’s most effervescent period at the close of the fifteenth century, as princes, prelates and proles vied for its ‘soul’ at one of the ‘most important moments in Western history’.
Whether Florence merits such prominence is open to debate, when Spain was acquiring the New World, anti-clericalism and new learning were stirring Reformation and the Ottoman Empire came close to crushing Christian civilisation east of Vienna. But Strathern’s enthusiasm and breakneck-paced style will more than compensate. His second book on the Medici and Renaissance Florence promises to be as enthralling as the first.