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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting
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,...
Published on November 25, 2009 by Joseph Devita

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a reasonable popular history with an overly thin thesis
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...
Published on October 5, 2009 by Margaret Johnston


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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting, November 25, 2009
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (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. Here the author postulates that after being exposed to the inhumanities inflicted by Borgia during his conquests in the Italian Romagna, DaVinci was so traumatized that he had difficulty finishing any projects from that point on, and that even publishing his notebooks was impossible because he feared that his discoveries might be put to inhumane uses. Hence the implication is that the tremendous advances that DaVinci had made in some scientific and technical areas, some of which were not discovered again for hundreds of years, were basically lost to us because of Cesare Borgia's cruelty and treacherous conduct!

Given that DaVinci all his life had a problem completing anything, which was probably a result both of his need for perfection and constantly wandering curiosity, it is really too much to ascribe this behavior in the last decade of his life to his four months travelling with Borgia.

And while Borgia may indeed have exposed him to some loathsome behavior, as this book details, these kinds of actions were rampant in Italy at the time, practiced by everyone from the Pope to the local magistrate. Perhaps a lifetime of seeing this finally began to effect DaVinci in his later years, something which often happens, and which we have taken to calling "maturity".

However, aside from this criticism, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in either this historical time, or with those outbreaks of exceptional ability, talent and accomplishments which periodically arise and change the world, during which giants, even if they have feet of clay, walk the Earth.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Personalities And The World They Helped Create, December 21, 2009
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (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. While there is abundant evidence, both direct and circumstantial, that the three men knew and worked with each other, Strathern sometimes seems to reach too far into his imagination in speculating on when they might have met and what they might have said to each other. But these are minor flaws indeed compared to the richness of this well told narrative, which humanizes all three of his subjects. By the end I was even moved to feel some sympathy for Cesare when he came to a violent and undoubtedly well deserved end, and I certainly felt compassion for Leonardo and Machiavelli, who spent their final years regretting unifinished work and missed opportunities, though both were by then held in high honor and esteem.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a reasonable popular history with an overly thin thesis, October 5, 2009
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warfare, Terror, Murder and da Vinci: Paul Strathern's "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior", March 2, 2010
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (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. Strathern vividly describes Renaissance Italy in the 1500's, which was not a unified country under the banner of Italy but instead a collection of constantly battling city states and principalities dominated by Milan, Venice, Naples, Florence and the pope in Rome. The book's narrative introduces us to da Vinci, Machiavelli and Borgia and then weaves, in a Rashomon view, their lives and the events surrounding them from three different vantage points. Strathern helps us see the vibrance and struggle of Renaissance Italy from the viewpoints of the artist, the philosopher, and the warrior.

A Visual Realm of Ideas

In a way that I find new to biographies of Leonardo, Paul Strathern concerns himself not only with the events in da Vinci's life, but especially in how Leonardo learned to think, ponder and dream. Leonardo da Vinci was born as the illegitimate son of Piero da Vinci. Because of the circumstances around his birth, Leonardo was not allowed to receive a classical education and so did not learn Latin as a youth. How did the young da Vinci grow into such a deep thinker?

Strathern clearly shows that Leonardo's artistic and scientific investigations were prompted by his own curiosity and massive intelligence. Without having learned Latin, Leonardo was able to read the classics in translation. Through his study of the Roman author Lucretius, whose epic poem "De Rerum Natura" (On the Nature of Things) sought to explain the world in scientific terms, Leonardo learned that accurate understanding derives from investigation and experience.

"Reflect that the most wicked act of all is to take the life of a man. For if his external form appears to be a marvelously subtle construction, realize that this is nothing compared with the soul which dwells within this structure."
- Leonardo da Vinci, from his notebooks

Leonardo cherished life so much that he became a vegetarian but at the same time he devised weapons and instruments of war. This conflict runs throughout Leonardo's adult life and Paul Strathern addresses this paradox throughout his book:
Leonardo "served with no apparent show of unwillingness (even in the privacy of his notebooks), as military engineer to the ruthless murderer Cesare Borgia, a monster whose name would enter history as a byword for infamy."

Perhaps an answer can be found in the zeitgeist of the era. As Strathern explains, the Renaissance prompted a more rational humanist outlook in the worlds of art and literature, but medieval fears and prejuidices remained strong. In troubled times, a collective mania could take hold. A similar, collective mania, took hold in the United States after the terrible events of September 11, 2001. This collective mania was hidden in the richly nuanced shadows in Leonardo's paintings. Caught in the sfumato in "The Adoration of the Magi", now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, warriors on horseback battle. Lost to time, but remembered in Peter Paul Rubens' restoration and reworking of an Italian 16th-century drawing, horses lock forelegs and armored soldiers scream as they battle for the standard in Leonardo's "Battle of Anghiari."

Legacies

Like a figure from da Vinci's "Battle of Anghiari", Cesare Borgia died on a battlefield.

After the Medici returned to power in Florence in 1510, Machiavelli was stripped of his Florentine citizenship, kicked out of his political office, fined 1,000 florins which left him almost penniless, banned from the city of Florence, and cast into an early forced retirement at his tiny family farm seven miles outside the city walls. At 43, Machiavelli had lost his career and his wealth. But he still could write:

"For four hours, I forget all my worries and boredom. I am afraid neither of poverty nor death. I am utterly absorbed in this world of my mind. And because Dante says that no one understands anything unless he remembers what he has understood, I have noted down what I have learned from these conversations. The result is a short book, called 'The Prince', in which I delve as deeply as I can into the subject of how to rule."

Leonardo da Vinci left a legacy of unpublished volumes, uncast sculptures, unrealized engineering projects, and unfinished paintings. Strathern theorizes that Leonardo's time with Cesare Borgia was brutish and caused Leonardo to doubt that humans were essentially good. Among diagrams and plans for weapons and machines, Leonardo wrote, "I will not publish or divulge such things." Leonardo saw the evil nature in men and did not trust humanity with his genius. A weapon, elegantly realized with a quill pen on a sheet of costly paper, becomes horrible when realized in the physical world and used to tear flesh and bone. Ultimately, Leonardo's discoveries lay hidden for centuries.

Leonardo's inability to finish his projects had aesthetic reasons as well. Since the classical age, unfinished artworks were cherished because they seemed to reveal the living thoughts of the artist. Leonardo da Vinci saw that an initial sketch captured the very instant of inspiration. Inspiration was valued as being more urgent and vital than a finished work of art itself. The initial idea or conception is what truly mattered to da Vinci. Once Leonardo had grasped the artistic idea, a finished work of art already existed in his mind.

Strathern's "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped" lights a darkened era. From the smoky depths of sfumato glazes we peer into da Vinci's world of nuance and suggestion. In Leonardo's artistic legacy and Strathern's satisfying book we are left with existential questions, mere hints about our time on earth and the threads of history and influence that link us to the past.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tangential Overstretched Connections, May 3, 2010
By 
Jiang Xueqin (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (Hardcover)
In "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior," Paul Strathern offers a look at fin de seicle 15th century Italian century through three of its most famous denizens: the artist and genius Leonardo da Vinci, the public servant and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli, and the warlord and murderer Cesare Borgia. This triumvirate is a nice conceit, but it does not work because so much of the evidence that these three had anything much to do with each other are tangential and overstretched. Leonardo was the lone genius who just happened to be employed as an engineer for Borgia's war machine for a matter of months, and Machiavelli and Leonardo were both acquaintances in Florence. The real focus of this book is on Cesare Borgia who would terrorize Italy at the behest of his father Pope Alexander; Machiavelli, as the Florentine envoy, would watch the machinations of the man who would become the role model for "The Prince."

Pope Alexander's ambition was to use the Vatican to create a unified Italy under hereditary rule, and his illegitimate son Cesare Borgia was this means to an end. Ruthlessly maneuvering against their opponents Pope Alexander and his son were well on their way to their goal when Alexander died and Borgia, having lost his guiding light and political sponsor, collapsed under the weight of Italian and Vatican political intrigue. Having never been either a great warrior or strategist and instead using duplicity and knavery to achieve his ends, Borgia would nevertheless die in battle in his early thirties. While a staunch republican and a civil servant who tried to protect Florence from Borgia's depradations, Machiavelli was nonetheless in awe of the duke, and after having been exiled by the Medicis who returned to power in Florence, the republican Machiavelli, either in a state of frustration or hopelessness or insanity decided to write "The Prince," which Machiavelli dedicated to the Medicis, hoping to return to official favor yet again. After republican rule returned to Florence, Machiavelli thought he would instantly return to his role as secretary to the powerful but "The Prince" had disgusted the republicans,and Machiavelli was left to die on his farm. The irony is that after having dedicated his life to republicanism and indeed having suffered for it Machiavelli would be remembered, because of the popularity of "The Prince," as a ruthless duplicitous strategist of the Borgia mode.

Quite frankly, I thought what was really interesting was how fractured and warring Italy could unleash such men of genius -- a question that Mr. Strathern does not at all discuss. Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Raphael were all contemporaries. So is the city-state a better incubator of originality and creativity than the nation-state? If you consider the example of Athens and Florence and the warring states period in Chinese history then the answer is most definitely yes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Short Biographies in One Book, April 4, 2010
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (Hardcover)
This book is essentially three mini-biographies of Leonardo, Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia. The author links the three together by focusing on a brief period, beginning in 1502, when Machiavelli was dispatched by Florence on a diplomatic mission to Borgia and, shortly after his return, Leonardo became Borgia's chief military engineer. The book is one of popular, i.e., nonacademic, history; there is no original research in here and, to the extent there is what purports to be new analysis, the author is frank about the extent to which his analysis is speculative. He does write clearly and briskly and tends to select the most interesting and salacious items in their lives, so the book read well as a work of popular history. The other reviews that precede mine are all, in my opinion, quite accurate and I will not waste the reader's time by duplicating any of them.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting bit of history, April 3, 2014
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All three individuals are fascinating in their right, but thinking about their lives intersecting is amazing. The author obviously has done his research and it is clear when some of the connections are more tenuous. I appreciated the clarity of what was actually known. I did wish that it flowed a bit more like a story however.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly accurate book, April 1, 2014
By 
MW "MW" (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped (Hardcover)
I got this because I am doing research for a novel in which Machiavelli is a major player. Da Vinci is also going to play a tiny offstage role, so this was a two for one deal for me. Of course, I'm not going into this blind. I've read all of Machiavelli's surviving letters at least once and know all about his complex relationship with Borgia, but little about Da Vinci.

Most of the modern history books I've found are a rehash of things I already know. This one has the breathtaking detail of a well written novel. Then I came to the part where the author proposes that Da Vinci was working as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia, probably as a spy under Machiavelli. Cue the record scratching. I've read nothing like that in Machiavelli's letters. The author claims there is evidence. I'm thinking, this had better not be a conspiracy theory, and the evidence better not be: "it's not impossible".

Imagine my delight when the book delivers the goods: letters of safe passage for Da Vinci in Cesare's hand giving him permission to go and do whatever he wants, a single cryptic reference to Borgia in Leonardo's codex, detailed maps of places firmly under Borgia control, etc... Yeah, there is really only one explanation.

I totally loved the interconnected nature of the approach. None of these men worked in a vacuum. Best of all, I detected no mistakes and none of the spin I see in a lot of history books based on scant evidence taken at face value. (Just because your mother-in-law tells you she's in ill health and hopes you'll let her see her grandchildren before it's too late doesn't mean she's terminally ill.) This book is an absolute treasure.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Book is full of information but dry, March 1, 2014
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This book was just too dry for me. I read about Leonardo Da Vinci and learned facts I had not read before considering his life.
Just could not get far after I read the next section as it is written in such a dry manner, could not keep my interest.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating confluence of influences, May 14, 2013
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I hadn't realized that all three of these people that have had so much influence were living in the same area at the same time. A fascinating view of a slice of history written in an engaging fashion.
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