39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2008
Sometimes, it seems to me that it would take a committee to produce an adequate biography of Lorenzo de' Medici. He was a many-sided jewel of a man, flashing his facets in so many directions that no single author could be the master of all of them. He was a sportsman, diplomat, political boss, essayist, poet, musician and connoisseur of all the arts. On the personal level he was a dutiful husband and loving father of a large family; he also had a reputation as man with a voracious appetite for extra-marital sex. Some 2,000 of his letters survive, along with more than 20,000 addressed to him by people from all over Europe: ambassadors, popes, princes, dukes, kings and their consorts, as well as friends and ordinary people from all walks of life. The sheer volume of material by and about Lorenzo is overwhelming.
Although Unger doesn't devote a lot of space to Lorenzo's personal life, he suggests/speculates that several of Il Magnifico's lovers were male, which could be true, but this is impossible to prove or disprove, and the author doesn't really make a case for his claim. One of the possible male lovers he mentions is the poet Luigi Pulci, who was many years older than Lorenzo, which in the sexual "etiquette" of that era would have made him the dominant partner. But given that he was a Medici client and Lorenzo's social inferior, it seems unlikely he could have played that role with Lorenzo. As for Lorenzo's friend Braccio Martelli-- he seems to have been vigorously heterosexual, and nothing Unger notes by or about him suggests a sexual interest in men, but who knows? Poet-scholar Angelo Poliziano is a definite maybe: he never married; there is some evidence he preferred men to women, and he was deeply, almost slavishly, devoted to Lorenzo.
Doing justice to such a complex and many-sided life in a single volume intended for the general reader would be a tall order for any writer, and I suspect that scholars of Renaissance history in general and the Medici in particular will look down their noses at this effort, although they'll no doubt envy Unger his lively writing style. A large majority of his sources are in English, thus ignoring much of the voluminous biography available in Italian. Furthermore, the author makes very little use of archival materials (only two such sources are cited, both available on-line).
Worst of all, for this reader at least, the book has no footnotes. Although there are some notes annoyingly appended to the bottom of some pages, and other notes hidden at the back but not indicated in the text, many sources for the facts (if they are indeed facts) presented are undocumented and may leave even the general reader wondering where the information came from. For example, on pages 216-217 the author mentions the birth dates of Lorenzo's children. Several of those dates differ from the dates given by other writers, so it would be interesting to know the source of Unger's information on this topic.
The decision not to use "real" footnotes-- the kind that appear as superscript numbers in the text--was the publisher's rather than the author's decision (according to the Comment added by the author to this post), and I think it was an unfortunate choice. Commercial publishers apparently feel that general readers will be so put off by footnote numbers in the text that they won't read the book; hence the use of notes that are NOT indicated in the text, so that when readers want to know the source for a statement, they have to flip to the back and see whether or not this particular item has a source given.
But despite these criticisms (which may not matter to most readers) this is a very well written and absorbing narrative. The books is full of penetrating insights into Lorenzo's personality and character. Unger is especially good at telling the various dramatic stories that punctuate Lorenzo's life. He emphasizes the political side of Lorenzo, however, perhaps to the detriment of the many other aspects of his life. I would have liked to have read more about Lorenzo's poetry and other literary works; seen more attention to his patronage of music and musicians, and perhaps read more about his complicated love-life, commented on by many of his contemporaries. But this would have made an already lengthy book too long for a single volume.
It's perhaps unfair to judge this work by the standards of scholarly biography, since it's not intended for an academic audience. As it stands, this is by far the best biography of Lorenzo de' Medici available today.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
No one volume life of Lorenzo can ever be comprehensive because he is a significant figure in too many areas. He is a major figure in Florentine, Italian and European political, diplomatic and cultural history. In the history of art, indeed, he may be said to be of global importance. He was himself a poet of skill, eminent in the literature of his time. Yet his cultural significance is his legacy to posterity. To the people of his city and time, however, his main importance was political and diplomatic; and that is the role most completely explored in this book.
This is not an unreasonable choice since his political role consumed most of Lorenzo's time. He worked endlessly to buttress and expand his family's de facto control of Florence, modifying the voting and political systems at least twice to do so (always to concentrate more power in his hands while careful to observe the old republican forms). He was equally active in trying to expand Florence's influence in Italy and beyond. These efforts were strenuous and stressful, especially in the early years of Lorenzo's primacy, for there were many who sought to challenge his ambitions and those of Florence.
Indeed, his first decade or so of power was fraught with a seemingly endless series of revolts and conspiracies, internal and external, culminating in the murderous Pazzi conspiracy that resulted in Lorenzo's wounding and the death of his beloved brother. There were also wars, especially after the Pazzi plot, with great danger for the regime and for Lorenzo personally. He not only survived all of this, he increased both his power and prestige because of the brilliant political and diplomatic outcome that he personally brought about. For the rest of his life he was both highly adroit and greatly influential in Italian affairs, to the point that many of his contemporaries credited him with keeping the intense rivalries of the various regimes from causing the peninsula to implode. The book's author believes that, if Lorenzo had lived (he died at the early age of 43), he might have been able to prevent the French invasion of Italy and the innumerable disasters that followed. It is a kind of tribute to Lorenzo that this wholly improbable notion cannot be totally ignored.
The book covers all of this in some detail and does a good job of describing what these monumental efforts cost Lorenzo in terms of stress and energy. Note that leaders of the day had to do much of their work personally as there were no significant administrative agencies or personal staffs to carry out their intentions for them. The tasks of governing were immense and consuming; and Lorenzo was personally beset every day by dozens of citizens seeking his opinion, his favor or his fiat. Note too that Lorenzo had also to run the far flung Medici banking business, one of the two major roles in which he performed poorly (the other was trying to educate his son Piero in how to rule: Lorenzo's constant efforts and advice were ignored and Piero remained an arrogant and ultimately unsuccessful fool). These enormous demands on Lorenzo make his cultural impact even more astonishing.
The book also sketches Lorenzo's role in some of the arts, primarily literature, architecture, painting and sculpture. The author does this well but just enough to whet the appetite. And other arts are mostly untouched (e. g. music, philosophy).
The book is clearly aimed at the educated general reader and is almost entirely based on printed works written in English or translated into that language. There is little, if any, research into contemporary documents or archives. The book is primarily an able retelling and contains no unexpected insights or research finds. Its prose style is clear and reasonably fluid, if not enchanting. The book is marred, however, by a significant number of the sorts of typos, omissions and other printing errors that should be caught by a competent publisher's staff. The author was poorly served in this respect.
Overall this is a worthwhile, if necessarily incomplete, portrait of an amazing man. In Lorenzo's day the word magnifico ("magnificent") was a term of polite respect accorded to prominent leaders. Only with Lorenzo did it in his own time become part of his personal identity and it has remained so to this day. This book suggests why.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2008
Miles J. Unger's "Magnifico" is a fascinating narrative about one of the most powerful and influental figures in renaissance Italy and in the history of Europe. Although there are several books on the subject, I found "Magnifico", with it's detailed focus on the everyday-life of the uncrowned ruler of Florence the most interesting and enjoyable to read. I was amazed by the level of detail in this book. Unger focuses heavily on the subject's personality: From his taste in horses, banquets and women (or men), to his favourite tuscan villas where he spent much of his time writing poetry. We are also introduced to the lesser-known Lorenzo, with the author revealing his wickedness and disabilities, as a failure in heading the inherited familydriven bank-empire, which eventually paved the way for his son, "Piero the Unfortunate". In this, Unger succeeds in providing an excellent account on Lorenzo's double life as a young playboy-prince, diplomat and shrewd politician on one side, and the benign, unsecure poet and family-man on the other side. The author underlines how Lorenzo affected everyday-life of Florence and Tuscany, both political and cultural as a the leading statesman and patron of the arts, turning Florence into a great power on the Italian peninsula, and an international exporter of renaissance culture. The book is not only a biography, it also provides the reader with a brief topic on both Florence's turbulent history and the Meidici's road to power beginning with Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici in late 14th century.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book relates the events of the 15th century when Florence and the Medici were at their height of glory and prestige. The story is one of intrigue, art, war, religion and politics. Its cast of characters remains famous 600 years hence.
"Magnifico" is a readable book, but it should be more than just readable. This glamorous and exciting subject calls for a more dynamic text. I think the author is trying to be an even handed historian and refrain from idealizing his subject and the times. This has the effect of making not only Lorenzo a much flatter character than he undoubtedly was, but also waters down what should be a riveting book.
Unger does a good job of relating the history. He stays with the facts. This is the first book I've read on this period that puts it all together. Granted, the other books were about special events or isolated characters and did not purport to be more.
The most compelling writing comes at the end. As Lorenzo winds down, Savonerola winds up and Michelangelo enters the scene. Lorenzo's immediate progeny are more reminiscent of his father than of their dynamic father. The son, for whose career Lorenzo and his daughter make great sacrifices, presides as Pope over the challenge and eventual success of Martin Luther; a grandson Pope, presides over a sack of Rome. As Unger relates the past to the future, he finally shows some of the passion he undoubtedly has for his subject.
I recommend this for those, who like me, want to know more of this period. Do not expect a page turner like a Chernow or McCullough biography, but a readable book that will introduce you to the times.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2009
After reading "The House of Medici, Its Rise And Fall", I though the book on Lorenzo Medici would be the next step. Although Lorenzo is quite an interesting subject, the way the book is written is not conducive to a good yarn. I'm still reading it after about 2 months of forcing myself to pick it up each time. The problem lies with the style of writing the author chooses. He jumps back and forth in time making it hard to keep the natural progression of the story clear in your head. Although dates are given, I've found a lot of repetition in the book each time another character comes into play. Other times quotes are not attributed to anyone in particular, just inserted with indented lines in the middle of the page. But, the main stumbling block to finishing the book is it's time jumping, and its a constant problem.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2008
This biography is difficult to follow. It starts off in 1466 with a 17 year old Lorenzo traveling to Florence to address some political crisis. Then the author jumps back and forth in a very confusing manner talking about Lorenzo's father and grandfather, Piero and Cosimo. It was difficult for me to remember where in time I was at any given moment. I understand the need to give background information but it was done in a very disorganized manner (at least to this reader). To top it off, six chapters later we're still with Lorenzo and he hasn't even reached Florence yet! Perhaps someone who is very familiar with the Medicis won't find this so disorienting but for a layman like me I just thought it very confusing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2010
As a non-academic who just enjoys reading about history, I found this book utterly fascinating. Many times I simply put the Kindle down and said out loud, "You can't make this stuff up!" I had never heard of the Pazzi conspiracy, but I've read several books about the plot and its various characters since, and am considering a trip to Florence next year.
Though heavily footnoted and indexed, I found the book highly readable and well within the reach of anybody who just wants to read a thickly plotted, amazing story -- and best of all, this one's true.
One drawback - the maps in the Kindle book are too small and fuzzy to be useful. I found it helpful to print a map of 15th Century Italy from an Internet site and keep it by me as I read. Also, there are portraits of many of the people mentioned in the book on Wikipedia, as well as photographs of sites in Italy, Medici castles, etc.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2008
This is an absorbing account of one of history's greatest characters. Unger brings to life not only Lorenzo de' Medici, the man, but the rich fabric of Renaissance Florence with all its colours, contours and unsurpassed creativity. Written for the general reader, Magnifico is a fantastic primer for anyone who wants to learn more about these turbulent times and their most influential leaders. And for fans of historical fiction writers, such as Dorothy Dunnett in particular, the book provides a wealth of background information and personalities sketches that show up in her fictionalised and composite narratives. In fact, when Unger describes the bloody plot that threatened Lorenzo's life and claimed that of his brother, the book reads like a historical page-turner.
One volume histories of figures who have already inspired tomes of scholarly (and not so scholoraly) writing are often dismissed as simple rewrites. Unger's book is far from this. It provides insights and analysis based on solid research and a great eye for detail. I would recommend this book to all who share a love of the great characters of history and the Renaissance in particular.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2013
The life of Lorenzo De' Medici has been treated in context in several excellent books about the Medici, Florence and the Renaissance. This volume makes the man, rather than the times and place, the focus. Unger's telling is sympathetic but balanced, and provides a judicious assessment of the conflicting views of a singular, influential and genuinely interesting figure. He does a pretty fair job of reconciling notably conflicting sources to bring out elements of the life beyond the politics. He varies the emphasis from some conventional treatments: For example, Lorenzo the poet? Not the first thing that usually comes to mind, but Unger shows why this side of Magnifico sheds light on the First Citizen of Florence. I am not a Renaissance scholar, but it is my impression that Unger largely "gets it right" about both the man and Florence in his time.
Is this a highly original, dramatic or enthralling read? I did not find it so, for some of the reasons described in earlier, fairly critical reviews. By contrast, I thought Unger's book on Machiavelli was more discerning. That being said, Unger does a decent job of showing a most interesting man in his times. I think that most readers looking for a solid biographical treatment will enjoy the book.
As an extra note, I would recommend reading also one of the more general treatments of the era and city, which would help with an appreciation of the accomplishments and significance of Lorenzo and the Medici generally. If 3 1/2 stars were an available rating, that is probably what I would have assigned.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2013
Superb! Congratulations to the author. I have read close to 200 biographies and this one is probably one the best to me.