Short Book Review: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

SBR: The Agony and the Ecstasy – a novel based on Michelangelo’s life-  was another novel that was picked up in the anticipation of our Italy trip, although I read it only after coming back. The timing wasn’t bad though. After having seen the sights, the streets and the cities it is based in, it was easier to appreciate what was going on. This long book didn’t work for me, however. The charm of historical fiction comes from the history as well as from the fiction. This is one of those that perhaps got the history right, but not the fiction. Although one can appreciate the thoughts the author put in Michelangelo’s head before he started on each of his historic creations, he didn’t make the character come alive to me. The dialogs had no distinction and events around our protagonist often unrealistic as well as dull. The book is also criticized for dismissing Michelangelo’s homosexuality, which is now apparently well-accepted. But I won’t judge the book if the author felt compelled to take that stance. The book is as much a creation of its own times (published in 1961) as Michelangelo was of his own.
To read or not to read: If you are specifically interested in Michelangelo, then yes. But I would not recommend it for the delight of reading.

Short Book Review: History Of The Italian People by Giuliano Procacci

SBR: I picked up this book in anticipation of our Italy trip. Apparently, among all the book recommendations Abhaya could find for an introduction to Italy’s history, this was a rare one written by an Italian (and available in English translation). Hence I picked it up over the others. History of Italian People by Giuliano Procacci is pretty good, written without excessive national fervor or an extreme aversion to it. But unless you have some familiarity with European or Italian history, I would not recommend it as a first book. Because it seems to address a familiar audience with a good analysis. Unfamiliar ones will have to turn to Wikipedia too often. It also starts only from AD 1000. So ancient history including the Romans and their predecessors is missing.
To read or not to read: Not as a first read on the topic. But a good addition to your reading list for analysis and perspective.

Short Book Review: The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

SBR: The prolog, along with with the first sentence of the first chapter, seems to give away the story of this historical novel. But The Birth of Venus becomes interesting towards the middle before turning disappointing again in the last few pages. However, the recreation of the madness and ecstasy of Renaissance Florence, a city bubbling with art and masterful human creations, is admirable; and that kept me reading through the book.
To read or not to read: Yes, for the historical setting, even though the fiction falters.