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The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 29, 2009


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Book Description
The Renaissance was a child of many fathers--none more important than the three iconic figures whose intersecting lives provide the basis for this astonishing work of narrative history: Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesar Borgia. Each could not have been more different. They would meet only for a short time in 1502 but the events that transpired, would significantly alter their perceptions--and the course of Western history.

In 1502, Italy was riven by conflict, with the city of Florence as the ultimate prize. Machiavelli, the consummate political manipulator, attempted to placate the savage Borgia by volunteering the services of Da Vinci as Borgia’s chief military engineer. That autumn, the three men embarked together on a brief, perilous, and fateful journey through the mountains, remote villages and hill towns of the Italian Romagna--the details of which were revealed in Machiavelli’s often-daily dispatches and Da Vinci’s meticulous notebooks.

In a book that is at once a gripping adventure story and a trenchant analysis of how men make history, The Artist, the Philosopher and the Warrior limns each man’s personality, their interactions, and the forces that shaped their world. Superbly written, meticulously researched, here is a work of narrative genius--whose subject is the very nature of genius itself.

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Despite the convoluted title, this latest from award-winning British novelist and historian Strathern (Napoleon in Italy) is simply a good, straightforward history of Renaissance Italy during the turbulent decade around 1500, with emphasis on several important players. Pope Alexander VI, though not in the title, is the central player. Famously corrupt and ambitious, Alexander aimed to enlarge the Papal States and his family's influence, and his son, Cesare Borgia, led papal armies in three cruelly successful campaigns. The leading diplomat of wealthy but feeble Florence, Machiavelli worked hard to fend off Borgia, but admired his brutal realism, portraying him as the ideal ruler in his classic, The Prince. Both men knew Leonardo da Vinci, and Borgia employed him as a military engineer. However, da Vinci exerted no political influence, so the author's digressions into his art and ingenious (but mostly unrealized) inventions stand apart from the narrative. Readers will reel at this meticulous popular account of Renaissance tyranny, corruption, injustice and atrocities. 8 pages of color illus., b&w illus., maps. (Sept. 29)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; 1St Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553807528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553807523
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Devita VINE VOICE on November 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a history of a moment in the High Renaissance when the lives of DaVinci, Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia intersected and as such almost has to be interesting, and it is. These three larger than life historical personages are depicted in fascinating detail, and while the book hones in on a period of just a few months, actually you get the full biographies of each, and the Author does a wonderful job in capturing them in their full humanity, something which is often lost when contemplating their genius and accomplishments.

If there is a problem with this book, it is the degree to which the author has to stretch to makes his point about the effect the three had on each other. Borgia seems to have benefited from DaVinci's military engineering genius in outfitting his forces for his attempt to basically unify Italy, a goal he shared with his father the Pope, and which eventually failed and resulted in Borgia's exile to Spain.

Machiavelli's political philosophy was definitely influenced by Borgia, and his instructions regarding the pursuit and maintenance of power has been a factor in Western culture for the last 500 years. However, while Borgia was definitely the epitome of the amoral leader described in "The Prince", Italy at that time was rife with others who practiced the same self serving politics, and even the Author has to point out that Machiavelli's later book , 'The Discourses" presents a much different picture of a liberal republic as the model for governance.

However, the greatest leap of faith is made regarding the effect Borgia had on DaVinci.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Johnston VINE VOICE on October 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In different ways, Cesare Borgia, Leonardo da Vinci, and Niccolo Machiavelli are all men who shaped what we know as the Italian Renaissance. Here, Strathern discusses their achievements and examines the ways in which these intersected. The ties between Machiavelli and Borgia are well-documented (after all, the ideal ruler of Machiavelli's most famous work is modelled after Borgia), as are those between Borgia and Leonardo, who worked at Florence's request as Borgia's military engineer for a time.

Where Strathern stretches too much, I think, is in the ties between Machiavelli and Leonardo. Clearly they had some level of interaction and were linked in several different Florentine projects; Leonardo's biographer Charles Nicholl thinks it likely that they had a "cordial relationship". Strathern simply takes this too far, in my estimation, making all sorts of unsupported speculations about how Leonardo could have taken care of Machiavelli during an illness at Imola, or how Leonardo might have visited "his old friend Machiavelli" on his way to France to the court of Francis I.

In the end, Strathern produces a reasonably interesting work of popular history, which I might recommend to someone who didn't know much about the period. From a historical viewpoint, though, he simply stretches his thesis too far, on too little documentary evidence, to be completely convincing.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a well done triple biography of three men: Cesare Borgia, Leonardo da Vinci, and Niccolo Machiavelli. It is also an excellent history of Renaissance Italy, a region torn by war and bursting with creative spirit at the same time.

Northern Italy during the early 1500s was a region divided between small kingdoms and city states, with avaricious rulers and despots all greedy for more land and power. None had more ambition than the most inappropriate of Holy Fathers, Pope Alexander VI, a cynical and sensuous man who cared little for the Church and everything for earthly power. The Pope's illegitimate children Cesare, Lucrezia, and Alexander Borgia (among others) were willing tools for his efforts. Cesare Borgia in particular was greedy for power. A cold, brilliantly ambitious man, Cesare was almost psychopathic in his willingness to double deal and backstab everyone who stood in his way. Cesare came into contact with Leonardo da Vinci, whose brilliant designs for fortifications and weapons were obviously useful to him, and Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat who dealt with Cesare and witnessed some of his greatest triumphs and degradations. Leonardo, the most humane of the three, was sickened by Cesare's excesses, while Machiavelli, though similarly appalled, came to respect and admire Cesare's utter ruthlessness and determination.

Paul Strathern has done a masterful job of describing the lives of these three giants. At times the book seems repetitive, but that is necessary and indeed valuable because it shows how very differently the three viewed the same events.
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Format: Hardcover
Leonardo da Vinci is an artist whose name is instantly recognizable but whose artwork can seem so familiar to 21st century eyes that the actual paintings feel lost behind a veil of cultural expectations. Paul Strathern's new book, "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped", allows us to see Leonardo as a living man and artist shaped by his time, friendships and experiences.

Strathern's book opens with an epigraph spoken by Orson Welles' character, Harry Lime, in "The Third Man". From the vantage point of a ferris wheel high above Vienna, Orson Welles surveys the battered post-war city beneath him and says:

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace--and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

A Brief Convergence

Paul Strathern who has a background in philosophy, and writes often on the subject, approaches the brief convergence of Leonardo, Borgia and Machiavelli as a sort of biographical/philosophical thought experiment. Like a good professor, Strathern asks questions:

"What was it precisely that made Leonardo agree to work for Borgia?"
What were Leonardo's "real intentions"?
How did Leonardo "become involved with Machiavelli?"

Paul Strathern defines his terms with background and analysis of the three major characters. Like Orson Welles, Paul Strathern uses a keen eye and a sense of humor to survey the events surrounding Machiavelli's Florentine diplomatic mission in 1502 which put Leonardo in the service of Cesare Borgia.
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