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Death in Florence illuminates one of the defining moments in Western history—the bloody and dramatic story of the battle for the soul of Renaissance Florence.

By the end of the fifteenth century, Florence was well established as the home of the Renaissance. As generous patrons to the likes of Botticelli and Michelangelo, the ruling Medici embodied the progressive humanist spirit of the age, and in Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent) they possessed a diplomat capable of guarding the militarily weak city in a climate of constantly shifting allegiances between the major Italian powers.

However, in the form of Savonarola, an unprepossessing provincial monk, Lorenzo found his nemesis. Filled with Old Testament fury and prophecies of doom, Savonarola’s sermons reverberated among a disenfranchised population, who preferred medieval biblical certainties to the philosophical interrogations and intoxicating surface glitter of the Renaissance. Savonarola’s aim was to establish a “City of God” for his followers, a new kind of democratic state, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The battle between these two men would be a fight to the death, a series of sensational events—invasions, trials by fire, the “Bonfire of the Vanities,” terrible executions, and mysterious deaths—featuring a cast of the most important and charismatic Renaissance figures.

Was this a simple clash of wills between a benign ruler and religious fanatic? Between secular pluralism and repressive extremism? In an exhilaratingly rich and deeply researched story, Paul Strathern reveals the paradoxes, self-doubts, and political compromises that made the battle for the soul of the Renaissance city one of the most complex and important moments in Western history.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Strathern combines diligent archival research with an exemplary narrative verve and keeps the pages turning.”

    Financial Times

  • “A vivid tale in great detail.”

    Times Literary Supplement

  • Death in Florence grips the reader from the first page.”

    New Statesman

  • “With reproductions of Renaissance artwork and architecture as well as passages from contemporary historians, critics, and notable figures, Strathern’s history envelopes the reader in the world of medieval Italy, with its vitality and violence, intellect and turmoil…A thrilling and informative chronicle of one of the Renaissance’s most notorious dynasties.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “Eschewing a one-sided approach, Strathern fashions an engrossing portrayal of the two legendary fifteenth-century figures who shaped Renaissance Florence: Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de’ Medici and Girolamo Savonarola…In well-considered prose, Strathern argues that these two figures battled for the ‘direction that humanity should take,’ further illustrating the struggle for Florence’s soul via Savonarola-convert Sandro Botticelli’s artistic descent from exuberant classicism to brimstone imagery.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Savonarola gets terrible press, admits novelist and historian Strathern in this lively history of a bizarre period during Italy’s golden age…Strathern does not take sides as he delivers a deft, often gruesome account of events in that distant era when Christianity was a matter of life and death.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week
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About the Author
Author Paul Strathern

Paul Strathern earned a degree in philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin, and has lectured in philosophy and mathematics. The author of many nonfiction books and of articles for numerous publications, he has also written several novels and has won the Somerset Maugham Prize. He lives and writes in London.