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Savonarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet Hardcover – November 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“[A] luminous and learned biography . . . subtle, cogent . . . immensely compelling.”—Anthony Grafton, Lapham’s Quarterly
(Anthony Grafton Lapham's Quarterly)

“A masterpiece of the genre. Donald Weinstein has succeeded in presenting a wholly coherent, finely balanced and deeply moving analysis of Savonarola, the man, the preacher, the reformer and the political leader. Weinstein's understanding and presentation of the complex political, social and religious contexts in which Savonarola operated are outstanding and unmatched by any other biographer.”—Lorenzo Polizzotto, The University of Western Australia
(Lorenzo Polizzotto 2011-05-30)

"Eminently readable, neither hagiographical nor overcritical, the biography, which will surely become the definitive account of this Renaissance prophet, leads us through the drama of Savonarola's life, allowing the man himself to emerge from generously-quoted sermons, letters and chronicles, as well as from the author's own deeply-researched and judicious narrative."—Alison Brown, author of The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence
(Alison Brown 2011-06-28)

“The genius of Renaissance history lies in its capacity to remain forever contemporary. Donald Weinstein's smooth biography brilliantly reveals Savonarola as a man for our unstable and risk-riven times, dangerously mixing charismatic leadership, governance and fundamentalist religion.”—Kate Lowe, Queen Mary University of London
(Kate Lowe)

“Since his early research some forty years ago in the history of Renaissance Florence, Donald Weinstein has concentrated on that city’s religious life. His new biography of Girolamo Savonarola is a testimonial to his vast erudition, and to his penetrating insights into that complex world. Weinstein focuses on the Dominican friar’s role as a prophet, and his vision of Florence as the new Jerusalem. This dramatic account of the rise and fall of a major historical figure is an important contribution to the history of Florence during one of its most traumatic phases.”—Gene Brucker, Professor Emeritus, University of California Berkeley
(Gene Brucker)

“…this new biography represents the definitive English-language account of its subject. It offers the kind of exhaustive yet balanced assessment of the controversial friar’s life that can only be produced by an expert writing at the culmination of his academic career.”—Jerry Brotton, Literary Review
(Jerry Brotton Literary Review 2012-03-01)

“Weinstein presents a reasoned and fair view of his subject as friar, preacher, prophet and politician.”—Grahame Lock, The Tablet (Grahame Lock The Tablet 2012-03-17)

“Weinstein’s scrupulously researched finely balanced life is both a complex portrait of a fascinating figure and of a uniquely and creative time.” –Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman
(Michael Kerrigan The Scotsman 2012-04-28)

Won Honorable Mention for the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival in the Biography/Autobiography category
(Biography/Autobiography Honorable Mention Los Angeles Book Festival)

“An excellent narrative study, very well written and judicious. . . . Highly recommended.”—P. Grendler, Choice
(P. Grendler Choice)

“This impeccable book is the culmination of Donald Weinstein’s lifelong study of the Italian Renaissance and is a must-read for anyone interested in Savonarola. With customary learning, insight and lucid prose, Weinstein provides an exceptionally vivid portrait of one of the most controversial and fascinating figures of early modern Italy.”—Stefano Dall’Aglio, University of Leeds
(Stefano Dall'Aglio 2011-03-15)

“Commendable . . . eloquently written and universally approachable . . . appealing to both general and specialist readers alike.”—Hasan Niyazi, Three Pipe Problem 
(Hasan Niyazi Three Pipe Problem)

“Excellent . . . a nuanced and engaging study of a man too often caricatured . . . [a] fine piece of scholarship.”—Ryan Sayre Patrico, First Things
(First Things)

“A moving and magisterial biography . . . a powerful narrative . . . [a] splendid book . . . at once empathetic and discerning.”—John M. Najemy, Catholic Historical Review
(John M. Najemy Catholic Historical Review)

“Elegantly written . . . remarkable . . . Weinstein understands both the man and prophet like no other . . . an impeccable account." —Alessio Assonitis, Sixteenth Century Journal
(Alessio Assonitis Sixteenth Century Journal 2013-03-25)

“Insightful . . . a balanced and often intriguing portrait of a gifted but troubled soul.” —Robert E. Scully, S.J., America
(Robert E. Scully America 2013-03-25)

"David Weinstein's elegantly written Savonarola is a perfect culmination—and, at the same time, continuum—to this wave....With remarkable skill, he constructs a historical narrative gracefully punctuated by the more poignant passages from Savonarola's sermons and treatises, a vast territory, which he has charted like few others...[P]resents an impeccable account of Savonarola as a prophet and political leader, and merits a prominent place in the library of every dedicated scholar of Renaissance Italy."—Alessio Assonitis, Sixteenth Century Journal
(Alessio Assonitis Sixteenth Century Journal)

About the Author

Donald Weinstein is professor emeritus, University of Arizona. He is the author of several books on Italian history and is a world authority on Savonarola and the Italian Renaissance. He lives in Sonoita, AZ.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300111932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300111934
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,398,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Weimer (actual name) on January 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
SAVONAROLA by Donald Weinstein begins impressively and ends grippingly--a rare trajectory for an essentially scholarly work.
Impressive from the start is Weinstein's familiarity with the leading issues and public figures of the Italian Renaissance, his fluency in medieval Italian, his knowledge of Christian theology. Gripping particularly is his detailed account of the final stages of Savonarola's descent into the maelstrom of Florentine politics, his never ending, futile conflict with the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, his mounting awareness of his own likely torture, hanging and fiery end.
All this in clean, finely sculptured prose.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alan Bernstein on January 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In Savonarola, Donald Weinstein achieves a remarkable synthesis. He begins with Savonarola's puzzling recantation of his prophetic sermons under torture and facing trial by fire. Was the retraction sincere regardless of the duress, or does the prophecy endure beyond the fluctuations of Medicean and papal politics? With a sensitive appraisal of Savonarola's Florentine, Renaissance, and Christian connections, the author presents a study as valuable for its mastery of the context as for the beauty of its prose. Donald Weinstein's Savonarola will involve all who concern themselves with the interaction between religious community and civic life then and now.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jon M. Sweeney on January 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The world's first "megachurch" - defined as a church with weekly worship attendance of 2,000 or more, a charismatic founder and leader, a top down authority structure, a tendency to draw members away from other churches, and sustained power and influence in a community - did not originate in 1950s America. Instead, by this definition, the first megachurch sprouted in fifteenth century Florence. It was called San Marco and was led by a fiery preacher and friar named Girolamo Savonarola.
Savonarola was an Italian Catholic priest, a member of the Dominican Order, and he ruled Florence for four years, from 1494 until just before his death in 1498. He made Florence a republic, a theocracy governed by the laws of Savonarola, which he defined through his sermons at mass. He claimed that God revealed the truth to him, that he was God's appointed prophet, and the people of Florence could not argue with God.
If you've seen the Showtime series, The Borgias, with actor Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI, you have some idea of what Savonarola was preaching about and against. He built his megachurch and influence decrying the corruption of the Church itself. This pope kept mistresses, openly fathered children despite his vow of chastity, oversaw a thoroughly corrupt papal curia, and gave God's blessing to the Spanish government to enslave peoples abroad.
So, Savonarola had some good points to make. But he also made sodomy a crime punishable by death. And he called for the infamous "Bonfire of the Vanities," which took place on February 7, 1497 when Savonarola and his followers burned all sorts of household objects that Savonarola declared to be paths to sin: mirrors, cosmetics, playing cards, sculpture, books.
After a few years of this, Pope Alexander VI had had enough.
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Antonio Vives on December 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In spite of the few gripes I mention below, this an enjoyable and quite comprehensive biography put in the context of the time when Savonarola was at the peak of his influence. Its value lays in the balanced view Weisntein takes of his subject. His conclusion on Savonarola's character, supported by the words of preceding authors (Gucciardini, Machiavelo, George Elliott) are very well justified by the balanced and comprehensive discussion of Savonarola's writings (amazing that some many of his writings have survived in light of the circumstances of his death). The book is highly readable, rigorous but not pedantic in the academic sense. Contains plenty of footnotes and an excellent bibliography for those whose appetite has been whetted.

Small gripes: A timeline of political and religious events would have enhanced the understanding of the context of the times. At times the book is repetitious. It goes into some detail of the many institutional changes in the government of Florence (well justified by Savonarola's intervention on the issue and the political environment), but there are so many of them that a brief introduction to the governance of the city and its factions would have enhanced the understanding of Savonarola's role and motivations). So many person names are just mentioned without any background that it can become confusing. Also it opens some issues but leaves them unresolved (what is the status of the process of his canonization (no information after 1996?), what became of his image within Protestantism? how is he perceived today within the Catholic Church and by Renaissance scholars?.

Enjoyed the last chapter on the impact of Savonarola on the thoughts of future religious and particularly its relations to the Reformation ("Echoes"). Unfortunately it is short and leaves the reader wanting more. Granted, it is not the objective of the book to discuss "savonarolism", but if you opened it do not leave us hanging.
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