Member Book Reviews

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Many books have been written about the Borgias. Which ones are the best introduction to the history? The most concise? The most exciting fiction? Which books draw from all documents available including ambassador dispatches, private letters, and papal bulls? See what some of our members say about the books they have read.

Check out the list of reviewed books from our own "The Borgias" Fan Wiki Members below.

Member Book Reviews - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
The Borgias and Their Enemies 1431-1519

by Christopher Hibbert (2008)

This treatment is well-written, engaging, and concise. Hibbert is a highly qualified, best-selling biographer. His passion for the era is evident. Highly recommended for all readers, especially those looking for a short introduction to the family.

- Brooke9/7

The Borgias:  Books - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and, Death in Renaissance Italy

by Sarah Bradford (2004)
Like most young women of the Renaissance, Lucrezia had to do what her family told her and marry the men they chose for her. Bradford shows how Lucrezia became adept at making the best of circumstances. She seized the opportunity to escape her brother's baleful influence and make a new life as Duchess of Ferrara. The only member of her immediate family with any true religious feeling, Lucrezia became celebrated for her piety and charity, earning her the name 'The Good Duchess.'

- Juliana-Angela
Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times

by Sarah Bradford

Sarah Bradford's biography of Cesare is excellent. She has a fine grasp of the shifting, cut-throat politics of the period, and the role of the Borgias within it. Her book is both scholarly and highly readable, and really brings the sinister Cesare to life.

- Juliana-Angela

Courtly Dance of the Renaissance
The Courtly Dance of the Renaissance

by Fabritio Carosa

This Renaissance classic includes choreography and music for 49 dances, plus all-important guidance on how to dress, how to behave, and how to carry oneself while dancing at court, set down with utmost clarity and precision. An indispensable source of authentic information on courtly dance in the period from 1550 to 1610. I have not read this book but thought it would be of interest to those members interested in Renaissance Dance.
- Kittywake09

Member Book Reviews - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Art and Religon

by Von Ogden Vogt, 1921

If you are interested in signs and symbols in art and religion there is a section on renaissance art. Amazon does not appear to carry - out of print.

- Kittywake09

The Borgias Books & More - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
The March of Folly

by Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman now tackles the pervasive presence of folly in governments through the ages. Defining folly as the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives, Tuchman details four decisive turning points in history that illustrate the very heights of folly in government: the Trojan War, the breakup of the Holy See provoked by the Renaissance Popes, the loss of the American colonies by Britain's George III, and the United States' persistent folly in Vietnam. The book brings the people, places, and events of history magnificently alive for today's reader. Barbara Tuchman's short, pithy account of the Popes from Sixtus IV to Clement VII, and the ways in which most of them dragged the church into disrepute, is an excellent introduction to the period.
- Juliana-Angela

Magnifico by Miles Unger
Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de Medici

by Miles J. Unger (2008)

This book is a recent biography of the magnificent Lorenzo de Medici, ruler of Florence during the golden age of the Renaissance. There are many books about Lorenzo and the Medici, however, this one is fairly new and contains great images taken by the author himself during his travels in Italy researching the material. It is a highly detailed and engaging biography of his amazing life and times.

- Brooke9/7

The Renaissance Popes by Gerard Noel
The Renaissance Popes: Statesmen, Warriors and the Great Borgia Myth

by Gerard Noel (2006)

I still need to read this, but frequent scans and peeks have revealed it to be jam-packed with great info and modern interpretations unbiased and fairly based on the documents and historical evidence. There are many full-page color images in the 1st edition.

- Brooke9/7

marchioness of mantua
Isabella d'Este: Marchioness of Mantua

by Julia Mary Cartwright Ady (1907)

The only complete biography of Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua - and contemporary of the Borgias while in power. Her life and times are meticulously recorded in over 2,000 letters and documents preserved in the Mantuan archives. She was the quintessential Renaissance woman - noble, cultured, educated in the humanist tradition, a shrewd businesswoman, trendsetter, art collector, power politics player, diplomat, traveller, and devoted wife and mother.

- Brooke9/7

The Bad Popes
The Bad Popes

by E. Russell Chamberlin

I have just ordered this book, and can't wait to read it. Of course there is a section about our boy Rodrigo, aka Pope Alexander VI. This book includes the detailed stories of seven popes who, at one time, led the Church of Rome in the 7th century through the Reformation. These men were definitely the Papal bad boys who instigated ecclesiastical corruption of all sorts. It sounds like a

good read, but I will definitely let you all know all about it when I finish

- offwithherhead

The Vatican Secret Archives
The Vatican Secret Archives

by Deidre Woollard
The Vatican's secret archives have been the subject of lore for centuries and have spawned plenty of movies and novels. Now some of the Vatican's documents have been revealed in a new book, The Vatican Secret Archives. The 252-page book is full of colour photos and represents a chronological journey through the meandering history of the past centuries starting with the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, an old book containing formulas in use by the Papal Chancellery dating back to the end of the 8th or the beginning of the 9th century. Other documents include a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Sixtus V, a letter from Pius X to Hitler, and works from saints include St. Teresa of Avila.
- Kittywake09

Chronicle of the Popes

by P.G. Maxwell (1997)

List of every pope in the history of the papacy. Each pope is profiled along with his accomplishments. A fascinating read.

- angelosdaughter

The Renaissance: History , Art, Culture: Books - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
The Culture of Cleanliness

by Douglas Biow (2006)

Using the art and writings of the time, Biow explores the health and hygiene of the Renaissance.

- angelosdaughter

Member Book Reviews - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
The Pope's Daughter: the Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere

by Caroline Murphy (2006)

This is a biography of the little-known daughter of Giuliano della Rovere - later Pope Julius II - and Lucrezia Normanni. A remarkable woman in a dangerous age, Felice della Rovere successfully navigated Roman society to eventually become one of the city's most independently wealthy women. Murphy's style is neat, concise, and very informative without bogging the reader with too much detail.

- Brooke9/7

Member Book Reviews - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Galileo's Daughter

by Dava Sobel (2000)

The surviving letters of Virginia later Suor (Sister) Maria Celeste, eldest daughter of Galileo provide the basis for this story of the filial affection between father and daughter that enriched the lives of both.

- angelosdaughter

Caterina Sforza: A Renaissance Virago
Caterina Sforza: A Renaissance Virago

by Ernst Breisach (1967)

This somewhat recent biography is a thoroughly researched study of a remarkable woman and her times. The Tiger of Forli, the Daughter of Perdition, the Virago: Caterina Sforza was a woman of extraordinary powers of strength, honor, bravery, cruelty, and determination. The ultimate compliment to a woman in late medieval times and the Renaissance was to be called a virago. She retained all of her feminine virtues, she was beautiful, took lovers, and bore nine children while ruling her erstwhile lordships. This book covers her entire life from her birth at the princely court of Milan, the war against the Borgias, and finally to the dark dungeons of the Castel Sant'Angelo. Hers is a remarkable story, and highly recommended for all readers and fans of Renaissance Italy. This is one of Italy's native daughters, Caterina Sforza.

Caterina Sforza (Italian Edition)
Catherine Sforza
by Pier Desiderio Pasolini (1923)

This book is a highly detailed history that includes a description and context of the Italian states in the mid 15th century, the origins of the House of Sforza, and the amazing life of Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forli and Lady of Imola. She was raised in the ducal palace as a valued (though natural) daughter of the powerful Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza, went on hunts, danced at courtly balls, and went to Rome when she married a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, Girolamo Riario. She witnessed her father's assassination, war and upheaval, the assassination of her own husband, escaped the clutches of her attackers by sheer Machiavellian genius, struck fear into the hearts of her enemies, wrote a book called "Gli Experimenti" filled with recipes for poisons, cosmetics, and home remedies, married her lovers, bore several children, and finally lost her lands to the conquering Cesare Borgia.

Member Book Reviews - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Murder of a Medici Princess

by Caroline Murphy (2009)

The third of eight surviving children, Isabella de' Medici (1542–1576) was unusually close to her father, Cosimo, the powerful grand duke of Tuscany who built the Uffizi, and whose protection allowed her to live an autonomous, glittering Florentine life apart from her debt-ridden, abusive, playboy husband in Rome. When the treasonous behavior and extramarital affairs of Isabella's sister-in-law Leonora became a symbol for the anarchy of Francesco's court, Francesco sanctioned Leonora's murder at her husband's hands and, soon after, Isabella's murder by her husband as well. An excellently written, engaging, and well-researched biography of Isabella, a highly-educated Renaissance noblewoman who flouted conventional norms to live her life in a fashion reminiscent of today's modern "It Girls."- Brooke97

The Burning of the Vanities - book
The Burning of the Vanities: Savonarola and the Borgia Pope

by Desmond Seward (2006)

Girolamo Savonarola(1452 - 1498) was a Dominican friar of middle-class origin who became the dominant figure in Florence after the fall of the Medici in 1494. A powerful and charisnatic preacher, he hated the corruption of the contemporary church, which he saw as being typified by the licentiousness and luxurious living of many of the clergy in Rome.

Notorious for his 'bonfires of the vanities' , in which the Florentine citizens threw symbols of luxury into a public fire, Savonarola wanted to reform the Catholic church and turn Florence into a beacon of pious and humble living. His ideas struck a chord with many, but he faced stiff opposition from the Florentine elite and from Pope Alexander VI, who typified the kind of unpriestly behaviour that he deplored.

Desmond Seward, who has written a number of books about the fifteenth century, makes Savonarola into a generally sympathetic figure, whilst not being blind to his bigotry and other faults. The friar was instrumental in giving Florence a constitution which was far more democratic than any other contemporary state, and did much to help the poorer citizens - for example, he founded a bank based on charitable donations which gave loans at reasonable rates of interest. More controversially, he welcomed the invasion of Chales VIII, who he tried to persuade to convene a Council to depose the Pope and reform the church.

The book is well-written, makes the turmoil of Italian renaissance politics easy to understand, and contains vivid pen-portraits of other notables such as Lorenzo the Magnificent and Ercole d'Este as well as Rodrigo Borgia. Highly recommended. Juliana-Angela

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici

by Elizabeth Lev (2011)

An excellent and compelling biography of a truly fascinating figure. Lev provides a thoughtful and well-researched look at one of the Italian Renaissance's most notorious women, Caterina Sforza.

Caterina's story is fascinating enough on its own -- this is a woman who married three times, two of them in secret and for love rather than politics; who took command of the Castel Sant'Angelo and held the College of Cardinals to ransom while seven months pregnant; who weathered out sieges and stared down armies before losing her lands and titles to Cesare Borgia. What I particularly like about Lev's book is that it really humanises Caterina, looking beyond the legends (Caterina did not, in fact, flash her genitals at Ravaldino, nor did she attempt to poison Pope Alexander VI) and exploring the woman behind them -- her passions, her strengths, her failings, her mistakes. The tigress on the ramparts at Ravaldino, screaming down to the men who threaten her children that she can easily bear more sons-- that may be a striking image, but as Lev picks apart legend from fact and delves into the realities of that day, a far more nuanced and powerful story emerges.

Lev engages critically with primary accounts, picking apart the context and motivations that coloured their authors' opinions of Caterina. Her writing is engaging and easy to read as she succeeds in bringing the figures of Caterina's day to life.

For anybody interested in learning more about one of the coolest ladies of Renaissance Italy, I'd absolutely recommend this book. It's a fascinating and very enjoyable read and I'm glad I bought it.

The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance

by Leonie Frieda (2012)

Ugh, so disappointing. I was really excited when I found this book. Its focus is eight awesome Renaissance ladies, all of whom deserve more attention: Lucrezia Borgia, Giulia Farnese, Caterina Sforza, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Clarice Orsini, Isabella d'Este, Beatrice d'Este and Isabella d'Aragona. Fantastic women. The problem is... they don't really end up being the focus.

What Frieda's tried to do is weave the tales of these eight women's lives through the broader events of the period, but the result is that each woman's story is diluted, simplified and ultimately dwarfed by the big picture happenings. She treats her sources uncritically -- legends are presented as fact, as are pejorative accusations of insanity. Her characterisations are often shallow and one-dimensional, where it would have been so great to see her picking apart the complexities of the women.

What's more, the writing is appallingly bad. Appallingly. I'm talking incomplete sentences and hard-to-decipher run-ons. There are typos and grammatical errors throughout the text. I find it hard to believe a copyeditor even touched this mess.

There is some decent material in there -- I particularly found the stuff about Lucrezia Tornabuoni and Clarice Orsini interesting -- but there's a lot more that just isn't fleshed out satisfactorily or is flat-out questionable (Frieda straight-facedly alleges that Alfonso d'Este was so bad in bed that his first wife took to cross-dressing and shagging girls). It feels as though Frieda's just taken on too much: her basic idea is good, but with her constant jumping back and forth between eight individual stories and explanations of the broader political events, she ultimately isn't able to explore any of them in the kind of depth they deserve.

Like I said, really disappointing.

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