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Tigress of Forli, The Hardcover – 12 Dec 2011
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"Lev offers a rich, nuanced portrait of a highly controversial beauty and military leader and her violent albeit glittering Italian Renaissance milieu." (Publishers Weekly)"
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A strategist to match Machiavelli; a warrior who stood toe to toe with the Borgias; a wife whose three marriages would end in bloodshed and heartbreak; and a mother determined to maintain her familys honor, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici was a true Renaissance celebrity, beloved and vilified in equal measure. In this dazzling biography, Elizabeth Lev illuminates her extraordinary life and accomplishments.
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Some of her readings are somewhat optimistic and unconvincing: men who described Caterina as a `virago' are deemed by Lev to be expressing their admiration of her - when, in reality, the term indicating a `manly' woman was no more flattering at the time (or, indeed, now) than to be described as a `womanly' man.
That said, this is an engaging story of another one of those steely Renaissance women, this time from Italy in the late fifteenth century. I do get a little irritated that every one of these books tracing Renaissance women's lives (Elizabeth, Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, Lucrezia Borgia, the d'Este women, the Boleyns etc.) always tries to make out that the subject of the particular book is completely unique in Renaissance culture, something which clearly, from the evidence, isn't the case.
Small niggles aside, though, this is informative and entertaining even if its self-consciously feminist standpoint gives it an overly positive bias.
That being said, Caterina Sforza was a remarkable woman at a time when the world very definitely belonged to men and having spent my professional life in an environment which was male-dominated and where the majority of said males believed that they were seated at the right hand of God, all I can say is "go, girl"!
This is less of a book and more a rare gem. It was also my fist extensive look at the Italian history of this period (late 15th, early 16th century). It is every bit as interesting as Tudor England, and the author clearly has a great knowledge about the period. But there is no point having great knowledge if you cannot turn it into a captivating narrative. Elizabeth Lev has managed exactly that; she has translated her passion for the subject into a page-turning classic.
I am already putting this author on the same level as other excellent female historians like Bethany Hughes with her books like Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore.
The only negative point is, at least on my Kindle version, that the maps were generally unreadable. I had to consult other maps to see where the towns and cities were. Probably not a major point if you read the book on a tablet.
The history of Italy is told through Caterina, which makes it much more interesting and alive.
I can thoroughly recommend this book, it reads like a novel, but great care has been taken to keep to the historical facts.
If you are at all interested in Italy then read this book, you will learn so much about the country and many well known renaissance figures. ie. Leonardo da Vinci, the Medici"s, Macchiavelli, Michelangelo and the various Dukes, Counts, Popes, leaders of many of the state's that made up the Italy of the middle ages.
This is a well written book---Read it!
Lev manages to illuminated the life of this Italian aristocrat.
It is head and shoulders above the move recent 'Deadly Sisterhood'
by Leonie Frieda which is so dense, and badly put together
as to be unreadable.
If you are going to read just one book, get'The Tigress'
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