It's like this. If you have some casual interest in art history, particularly Renaissance art history, and most particularly Italian Renaissance art history, you've probably heard of Giorgio Vasari's "Lives."
Want my advice? Stop there.
Abridged editions are available (here I review the boxed two-volume unabridged edition from Everyman's Library), and those of more than a casual interest could just as well stop there, too. Vasari gave art history such terms as "Gothic," "Renaissance," and "Mannerist," and you can get all you want of that, and highlights of the most famous artists, from such abridgements.
This fully unabridged edition, while essential to those fascinated by such art history, is simply not worth it to those of lesser interest. Too much of it -- indeed, most all of it -- reads like an endless list, artist after artist, simply mentioning the works each did in each place. That makes it about as compelling a read as your local phone book. Worsening matters is that Vasari by his own admission was no writer, and the translator notes in his foreword that he has striven to recreate that fault. Simple fact is, this is dry and boring to read, and your eyes will quickly glaze over with dulled incomprehension as you try.
Those warnings aside -- don't say I didn't warn you! -- this is a handsome boxed edition, very attractive, with sewn-in bookmarks in each volume, a fine printing overall. And if you, like me, are determined to study such original sources in full, no matter how tedious, you will love this edition. From Duccio and Cimabue and Giotto forward, they're all here, with all their works detailed in endless, excruciating detail. We'll be intrigued to learn of, and dismayed to hear of, so many major works that were already lost by Vasari's day through fire, poor or experimental workmanship, intentional destruction, or even urban renewal. We'll even be angered to hear of known works that survived those first couple centuries only to be lost today. We'll absorb and appreciate those scant hints of sociopolitical background, of artistic technique and execution, of personal character as Vasari bothers to record. Nonetheless, eventually, our eyes will glaze over too, and then we'll appreciate even more the work of later, better art historians. Vasari was the first of art historians (unless you count Pausanius), but that sure doesn't mean he was the best.
I recommend this edition for those with a devoted and serious interest in the subject only! I would also recommend it as bookshelf-candy, being a very attractive and handsome boxed edition, if you or a gift recipient have no intention of ever trying to read it, or wish to wean yourself off Sominex.