31 January 2010

Book World Banter

We here at the VPO-MM household are Sunday-only subscribers to the Washington Post, and this may become a regular feature if Book World keeps having some interesting books. That's hardly a guarantee though, as the paper has absolutely eviscerated the Book World section and made it a shell of its former self. Now, we only get 3-5 books reviewed in the average week. So, if you see a week missing, it's because there wasn't anything great that week. Anyhow, since it's a feature, it gets a logo.

Catching my eye in this weeks Book World is The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern (link goes to review). The book apparently aims to tell of the intersection in 16th-Century Italy of Niccolò Machiavelli, the man who inspired The Prince, and possible drag-queen Leonardo da Vinci. Cesare Borgia, the man whose winner-take-all ways inspired Machiavelli's treatise, hired da Vinci in his quest to unite Italy in a new Roman empire. In addition to being a famous artist, da Vinci was a renowned engineer, and Borgia used his talents to wage more efficient war. As reviewer Steven Levingston notes:
Da Vinci contributed his considerable gifts to strengthening the duke's fortresses (curved walls reduced the impact of cannonballs), drawing maps (with the use of his invention, the hodometer, to measure precise distances) and building ad hoc bridges for the duke's army to cross rivers.
After he saw the ruthless duke in action, da Vinci quit his position and was never the same again. Machiavelli was able to observe, mostly from afar, as a diplomat from Florence, and grew to admire Borgia's grasp of power. While he certainly couldn't condone the duke, Machiavelli realized that politics didn't work in the realm of the theoretical and devised his book on governing based on the explicitly real concept that ruthlessness was a phenomenal way of maintaining power. 

Levingston gave the book a fantastic review, and it's been added to my Goodreads list. It seems like it might be in the same vein as Evening in the Palace of Reason, a book about the short meeting between Frederick the Great and J.S. Bach, another book I wish to read. Both detail meetings that certainly didn't define any of the primary actors lives, yet serve as a window through which we may better understand their biography and the society of the time. An interesting method of writing history, to be sure.

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