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Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de' Medici Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 6, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although a well-mined biography topic, the Medici dynasty continues to fascinate, and critic Unger (The Watercolors of Winslow Homer) offers a smart, highly readable and abundantly researched book, making particularly good use of Medici family letters and earlier biographical sources such as Machiavelli's writings. Heir to a vast international banking empire and trading cartel with branches in Venice, London and Geneva, Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492) was born to rule. Naturally sociable and charismatic with a common touch, famous temper and cynical world view, the teenaged Lorenzo excelled in classics, riding, arms, archery and music. He pursued liaisons with both women and men, represented his sickly father, Piero, on an important diplomatic mission and thwarted his father's enemies during a legendary ambush. His accomplishments do not stop there: as Florence's de facto ruler, Lorenzo actively collaborated with the artist Botticelli, was a master tactician and diplomat, and survived a papal-sanctioned assassination attempt that claimed the life of his beloved brother. Renaissance Florence—where wealthy aristocrats rubbed shoulders with the poor on narrow city streets and whose art and intellectual life dazzled Europe—is itself an intriguing character, proving Unger's mastery over his facts. Illus. (May)
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From Booklist

The milieu of the Italian Renaissance in the fifteenth century always presents a puzzling dilemma. It was an epoch of constant political chaos when class antagonism, family rivalry, and intrigue and assassination were endemic, yet high culture flourished and left an immortal legacy in literature, architecture, painting, and sculpture. An excellent example of these streams is seen in the personality and career of Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de’ Medici. Unger, a contributing writer for the New York Times, lived for several years in Florence. He has written an excellent biography that deftly weaves Lorenzo’s story with the wider saga of politics and culture in both Florence and the other Italian city-states. Unger views Lorenzo as a compelling mix of aesthetics and action. He was a gifted poet, a wise philosopher, and a patron of the arts who loved beauty for its own sake. He was also a tough, shrewd battler who knew how to survive in a dog-eat-dog environment where he was constantly threatened by serpentine plots. This is an outstanding chronicle of the man and his time. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743254341
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743254342
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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