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Dante (Penguin Lives) Hardcover – June 25, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Press; 1st edition (June 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670899097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670899098
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,565,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

History, literature, love, and religion come together in this graceful biography of the world's most revered and influential poet. R.W.B. Lewis, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Edith Wharton, displays the same intelligent understanding here of the complex interplay of inner and outer forces that shape an artist. His lucid account of political and literary conflict in 13th-century Florence (subject of another Lewis book, The City of Florence) illuminates the context in which Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) came of age, fell in love with the unattainable Beatrice Portinari, forged the "sweet new style" that transformed Italian literature, and embroiled himself in factional disputes he would angrily renounce after his exile from Florence in 1302. Lewis makes palpable the intellectual and imaginative energy that fired Dante to write an influential political treatise (De Monarchia), a powerful argument for literature written in the common tongue (De Vulgari Eloquentia), and of course his twin tributes to Beatrice: one of the most eloquent love poems ever written (La Vita Nuova) and that supreme chronicle of the human spiritual quest, Divine Comedy. The author notes autobiographical elements in all Dante's works without trivializing their creative majesty, and if the poet's personality is somewhat muffled across the distance of eight centuries, his artistic presence still "sparkles and sings and smiles like one of the spirits in Paradise." Drawing cogently (and with generous acknowledgment) on previous scholarship, this volume worthily fulfills its mission as an entry in the excellent Penguin Lives series of short biographies for the general reader. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

There could hardly be a more fitting biographer for Dante than Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic Lewis, who has called Dante's native city of Florence his second home for 50 years. In this newest offering in the Penguin Lives series a fraction of the size of Lewis's previous biographies of Edith Wharton and the Jameses Lewis shows an uncanny ability to capture crucial moments in Dante's life and development as an artist. Whether he is presenting the intricacies of Florentine politics or the living woman behind Dante's immortal vision of Beatrice, Lewis manages to provide just enough context to illuminate the known facts of Dante's life without losing the thread of his narrative. Lewis is especially effective in tracing the artist's tormented relationship with his native city, including his banishment from Florence in the political intrigues of the 1300s. In one memorable passage, he describes the "Purgatorio" (in which Dante consigns whole populations of Tuscans to eternal suffering) as the "exile's furious song" an attempt by an all-too-human artist to pass celestial judgment on his malefactors. Always a memorable writer, Lewis shows himself a particularly spry craftsman here; this may well be one of the most pleasurable biographies of Dante, as well as one of the shortest. Anyone in search of a brief but eloquent guide to the life of the Florentine master should not hesitate to turn to this book.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


More About the Author

1961-present. I was born in Jacksonville, Fl. I lived in Boca Raton for 16 years then moved to IL. Married in 2008. Became a published writer of mystery/suspense at age 50. I am a freelance writer of poetry and magazine articles about family and relationships.


sweet angel - See all my reviews

This review is from: Twisted Betrayal (Hardcover)
I would like all who read this to understand something. I normally do not like to support new authors, but this book is outstanding! It's story line keeps you wondering what comes next! It's heart throbbing, nerve racking and contagious. You will want more. Just like chocolate. You can't get enough of it. Thanks f...or writing this novelette. Please keep us in suspence as long as you can.

Customer Reviews

I would much rather read Boccaccio's biography of Dante even though it has a lot more bias.
Z. S. Ramsey
R.W. B. Lewis has written a good basic biography of Dante--a fine introductory work into one of the most complex and dynamic lives in all of literature.
David Cope
Closer to our own time, "T.S. Eliot's mind and imagination were infested with Dante over a literary lifetime."
E. A. Lovitt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on March 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lewis's short biography of Dante is a pleasure to read. But at the end of it, one discovers that the book's subject is still elusive.
Lewis shines in setting the background against which Dante lived and wrote, helping those who aren't specialists in the tortured politics of 13th and 14th century Florence orient themselves in that whirlwind world. He also does a good job of describing the passion young Dante acquired for Beatrice and how his love influenced his ambitions as a poet. Finally, Lewis provides a pretty good walkthrough of Dante's poetic journey through hell, purgatory and paradise.
But in all fairness, most people who read this book will probably be more or less familiar with all three of these topics. My guess is that what they'll yearn for is a better understanding of who Dante the man was, an understanding that plumbs more deeply than the usual stories about Beatrice and Florentine feuds do.
Lewis's book won't help there. Dante the man remains elusive, hidden behind his poetry and the images. This isn't necessarily a criticism of Lewis's book. Dante is something of an enigma, even more so than many other poets. It may well be that no biographer can reveal Dante as he was to us of us who live today, half a millenium later.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on September 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
DANTE by RWB Lewis is my introduction to the Penguin Lives series and if this is representative of the full series, I'm reading every volume. In 205 pages, in graceful prose that never flags, Lewis deftly sketches the life of Dante Alighieri and the times in which he lived, and, very important, offers a reading of his greatest works. The early Florentine Renaissance was a period fraught with political turmoil and Lewis does a good job of sorting out the factions and turns of events and their impact on Dante's life. His rereading of Dante's works is generous--no need to have read the masterpieces recently or perhaps at all to learn from this and gain an appreciation. In fact, this book would make a fine introduction to a study of THE DIVINE COMEDY. Lewis shares his own wonder and pleasure in Dante's work, and when he cites the original Italian lines, to provide an idea of their flavor, he always provides a translation.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By FinancialNeedsdotcom on July 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A pleasurable biography from beginning to end. The book interweaves literature, love and religion all together in an intelligent understanding of the complexities that shaped this great artist. The book manages to illuminate the known facts of Dante's life and capture key moments in his life. Details vividly his wanderings through Tuscan hills and splendid churches to his days as a young soldier fighting for democracy to his civic leadership and years of exile from the city that would reclaim him a century later. It truly is a masterpiece of self-discovery describing the life and work of one of the world's greatest medieval poets.
FinancialNeeds.com
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is one of several volumes in the Penguin Lives Series, each of which written by a distinguished author in her or his own right. Each provides a concise but remarkably comprehensive biography of its subject in combination with a penetrating analysis of the significance of that subject's life and career. I think this is a brilliant concept. My only regret is that even an abbreviated index is not provided. Those who wish to learn more about the given subject are directed to other sources.
When preparing to review various volumes in this series, I have struggled with determining what would be of greatest interest and assistance to those who read my reviews. Finally I decided that a few brief excerpts and then some concluding comments of my own would be appropriate.
On Dante's masterpiece: "The Commedia, to which the adjective Divina was affixed two centuries afterward, is, all things considered, the greatest single poem ever written; and in one perspective, as has been said, it is autobiographical: the journey of a man to find himself and make himself after having been cruelly mistreated in his homeland. It is also a rhythmic exploration of the entire cultural world Dante had inherited: classical, pre-Christian, Christian, medieval, Tuscan, and emphatically Florentine. And it is the long poetic tribute to Beatrice Portinari which Dante promised, at the end of the Vita Nuova." (pages 12 and 13)
On Dante's response to Beatrice's death: He "did more than write an occasional poem of memorial grief; he put together the work to which he gave the title La Vita Nuova di Dante Alighieri. It was essentially an act of compilation, probably begun in 1293 and finished two years later.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Prior to this biography on Dante, R. W. B. Lewis had established himself as one of the leading authorities on Edith Wharton and had also written a book about Florence. Although he is not widely acknowledged as a Dante scholar, this brief volume is testimony to his obvious love for Florence's greatest poet. Unlike many brief biographies of great literary figures, this is a remarkably balanced account of Dante's life and career. Given the strictures on what can be covered in a small number of pages, other biographers of other writers often focus on an individual's life to the near exclusion of all else, or on the greater cultural context of their work, or on a discussion of the writings, ignoring the writer's world and life. Lewis strikes a marvelous balance between explaining the historical-especially the political-context for Dante's life, in detailing the significant biographical moments that informed his career (including most of what we know about his limited encounters with Beatrice), and the development of his art. Lewis's skill in refusing to neglect any significant aspect of Dante's life and work is laudable.

Lewis's narrative progresses chronologically on a number of parallel levels. He reverts on several occasions to Dante's genealogy, on the political situation in Florence in the conflict between the Ghibellines (who favored the claims of the Holy Roman Emperor in Europe) and the Guelphs (who favored the Pope and later split into the Black and White Guelphs, Dante being associated with the latter), Dante's platonic adoration of Beatrice, the development of Dante's poetry, Dante's role in the government of Florence, his eventual banishment from Florence, and the composition and content of his COMEDY.
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