c o n t r i b u t o r s
This month’s pulpit is written by Frances Wilson. Her most recent book is How to Survive the Titanic or, the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay. Matthew Adams is a freelance writer. He is working on his first novel, The Fact of Wounds. Ross Anderson is Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University. Christena Appleyard is a freelance editor, writer and retail activist. Elspeth Barker is a novelist and writer of short stories. Dog Days, a selection of essays and journalism, will be published this year by Black Dog Books. She is no longer a detective. Frank Brinkley lived in Pakistan from 2006 to 2009. Timothy Brook’s most recent books are Vermeer’s Hat and The Troubled Empire. Jerry Brotton is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London. His history of world mapping will be published by Viking next year. Michael Burleigh has won the 2012 Nonino International Master of His Time Prize. He is finishing a book on the global Cold War from 1945 to 1965. Norma Clarke is Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University. Her recent book is Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington (Faber). Richard Cockett has reported for The Economist from Asia, Africa and Latin Amerca. Michael Eisen provides advocacy services to inpatients at an East London forensic mental health unit, and is editor of a forthcoming best practice guide for advocates. Felipe Fernández-Armesto teaches at Notre Dame. His books include 1492 and Pathfinders. Tom Fleming is an editor at Literary Review. Tom Fort has written books about lawns, eels, the weather and rivers, and a new one about the A303, which is out later this year. Steve Fuller’s latest book is Humanity 2.0: What It Means to Be Human Past, Present and Future (Palgrave Macmillan). John Gray’s most recent book is The Immortalization Commission (Penguin).
Michael Jacobs’s account of a journey up Colombia’s Magdalena River, The Robber of Memories, will be published by Granta Books this autumn. Sammy Jay is a fledgling dealer of rare books, a poet and a freelance reviewer. Paul Johnson’s most recent book is Socrates. His Darwin: Portrait of a Genius will shortly appear in New York. Sadakat Kadri, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, is the author of Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari‘a Law. Joanna Kavenna is the author of The Ice Museum, Inglorious and The Birth of Love. She is Writer-in-Residence at St Peter’s College, Oxford. Jake Kerridge is freelance journalist. Sam Kitchener is a freelance writer living and working in north London. Manjit Kumar is the author of Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality, which was shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize. Andrew Lambert’s new book, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, will be published in April by Faber. Lucy Lethbridge’s book on domestic service in twentieth-century Britain will be published by Bloomsbury in 2013. Jessica Mann is the author of twenty crime novels. Her new book, The Fifties Mystique, a combination of memoir and polemic, will be published by Quartet Books. Iain McGilchrist is Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital. Frank McLynn, author of thirty books, has always been a student of the American West.
Jonathan Mirsky is a journalist specialising in Chinese affairs. Douglas Murray is author of Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry. Eric Ormsby’s most recent collection is The Baboons of Hada (Carcanet). Richard Overy’s The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars and his 1939: Countdown to War were published in 2009 (both Allen Lane). Catherine Peters is the author of The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins (1991). Lucy Popescu was Programme Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006. David Profumo is fishing correspondent for Country Life. Amol Rajan is an advisor to Evgeny Lebedev and author of Twirlymen: The Unlikely History of Cricket’s Greatest Spin Bowlers (Yellow Jersey). Nicholas Rankin’s latest book is Ian Fleming’s Commandos (Faber). Donald Rayfield has recently completed A History of Georgia for Reaktion Books. Hannah Rosefield recently contributed an essay to The Junket about galanthophilia, or the love of snowdrops. Dominic Sandbrook’s Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979 will be published by Allen Lane in May. Kate Saunders’s The Whizz-Pop Chocolate Shop is published by Marion Lloyd Books. Joan Smith is writing a sequel to Misogynies, which will be published in 2013. Damian Thompson is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. His book about modern addiction, The Fix, will be published by HarperCollins in May. Adrian Tinniswood’s next book, The Rainborowes, will be published in 2013. Adrian Turpin is director of the Wigtown Book Festival. Patrick Wilcken is the author of Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory and Empire Adrift: The Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro 1808-21. He currently works on the Brazil desk at Amnesty International.
Literary Review | m a r c h 2 0 1 2 4 f i r e b r a n d s j e r r y b r o t t on
The Mad Prophet and Mach the Knife avonarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet
By Donald Weinstein (Yale University Press 379pp £25) Machiavelli: A Life Beyond Ideology
By Paul Oppenheimer
(Continuum 337pp £25)
On 2 and 3 March 1498, the 29-yearold aspirant civil servant Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was among a crowd that gathered at the Convent of San Marco in Florence to hear a fiery sermon given by the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98), recently excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI. Machiavelli described Savonarola’s apocalyptic preaching in a letter to a friend in Rome, concluding coolly that the friar, whose voice Machiavelli never forgot, said ‘things that you might say of the wickedest man there is. And so he goes, in my judgment, adjusting to the times and colouring his lies.’ The moment captures the two apparently incompatible dimensions of Florentine civic life in the 1490s: the visionary religious rhetoric of Savonarola and the sceptical, pragmatic realpolitik of Machiavelli. Within just three months Savonarola was dead, having been tortured and then hanged and burned by the republican Florentine government he had done so much to create; Machiavelli was appointed its Second Chancellor.
power, exemplified by the enduring appeal and popularity of The Prince (1513). But as both Weinstein and Oppenheimer imply, this was not necessarily the case in Renaissance Florence. Nor is it today, when many people seem as hungry for the fundamentalist religious rhetoric of modern-day Savonarolas as they are for an account of Machiavelli’s apparently immoral insights into political survival, the most egregious recent example being The New Machiavelli, Jonathan Powell’s memoir of Tony Blair’s years in power.
Of the two books, Weinstein’s Savonarola is the more fully achieved by virtue of the fact that it represents the culmination of a lifetime’s research on his subject. Weinstein first wrote an academic study of Savonarola, prophecy and patriotism in
1970, and this new biography represents the definitive English-language account of its subject. It offers the kind of exhaustive yet balanced assessment of the controversial friar’s life that can only be produced by an expert writing at the culmination of his academic career. Beginning with Savonarola’s birth in Ferrara, the repudiation of his family and his embrace of the Dominican order in Bologna, Weinstein moves effortlessly from a detailed account of the nature of fifteenth-century religious fraternities to his subject’s early, tortured works, including On Contempt for the World, with its scorn and indignation at human weakness and contempt for ‘vile and proud people, these greedy youth, lascivious old men, [and] fawning paupers’. Such sentiments set the scene for his subsequent visionary intemperance, and also partly explain his difficulty in reconciling his religious belief with prevailing academic scholasticism.
Having ‘declared war’ on the classical, ‘pagan’ authors, Savonarola struggled as an orator, and his first visit to Florence in the early 1480s left him disillusioned and largely unnoticed. However, his return in 1490 marked a new style of preaching. According to one observer, ‘he introduced an almost new way of speaking the word of God’, abandoning what
The virtue of reading Donald Weinstein’s towering Savonarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet alongside Paul Oppenheimer’s absorbing Machiavelli: A Life Beyond Ideology is that they offer an insight into how the archetypal Renaissance city of Florence managed to produce two such seemingly irreconcilable individuals who also rubbed shoulders with a veritable Who’s Who of the Renaissance, from Leonardo, Michelangelo, Ficino, Pico, Donatello and Botticelli to the baleful politicians of the Borgian and Medici dynasties. As Machiavelli’s political star rose in inverse proportion to Savonarola’s, we might assume that the future belonged to the former and his detached, ironic analysis of political
Savonarola: hot under the collar m a r c h 2 0 1 2 | Literary Review 5