I would have preferred if the author, or the editor, had chosen the names of the three personalities with which he engages himself in this book: Leonardo da Vinci, NIccolò Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia. That such a young person could baffle the astute Machiavelli (and most political figures of Italy at the time), and command the inquiring mind of Leonardo, is an affair that cannot leave any reader indifferent, no matter how revulsive Cesare's foul reputation may also seem. Granted, Cesare's success was the result of his being a son of Pope Alexander VI's, and in this book I came to see the father-and-son-tandem as the very effective combination of a strategist and a tactician. As Strathern contends, Cesare's successes in his military and political exploits were the result less of his strictly military valour and more in his ability in treachery. Machiavelli's personality emerges gradually, but Strathern succeeds less well in portraying a three dimensional figure. But Strathern strives to present Machiavelli as a parallel to Leonardo and conceives of both as scientists. Leonardo, who seemed the weakest character in this account, is rendered then as what we all know - as a sort of Aristotelian scientist who studied the natural world and who sought to expand human potential through Tekné.
"At the same time, Borgia sent word to Florence that he wished to meet a delegation empowered to negotiate for the republic in order to discuss matters of extreme importance. This consisted of Francesco Soderini, who was Bishop of Volterra as well as head of an important political faction in Florence, together with the young man who was now recognized as the city's most gifted diplomatic negotiator, Niccolò Machiavelli." Throughout the book we see Machiavelli observing, learning, developing and maturing as diplomat, politician and philosopher. Borgia was the actor strutting the boards, Machiavelli plotted the devious script, while Leonardo painted the set and designed the ingenious mechanical devices that shifted the scenery." Of necessity information is repeated as the history is told from the different perspectives, but this repetition can cause confusion, and at times it does feel as though one is going around in circles.
The Artist, the Philosopher & the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli & Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern represents a non-fiction book that is more interesting conceptually than when actually read. The premise of Strathern's book is that Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli & Cesare Borgia all represented "denials of the spiritual outlook of the preceding medieval era, yet each would in their separate ways, become emblematic of an eternal aspect of the human spirit--the artist, the philosopher & the warrior." While the book proceeds to treat each of these three Renaissance figures independently, the focus is on their intersections with each other at a time when the various city states vied with each other for dominance, aided by military regiments of Spain, France and the Papacy, among other forces. What the author illuminates is that Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli & Cesare Borgia all were classically educated and each sought to impose a much more scientific approach to their respective disciplines--art, political strategy and military warfare respectively. The Artist, the Philosopher & the Warrior does fill in many gaps about the warring Italian city-states and the 3 main characters whose lives are detailed within the book but it is a long & difficult path to follow in order to gain a better sense of life in the initial decades of the 16th Century in Italy.
These three different men all took part in the great events of their time, although none of them achieved then the fame they have now. I knew the least about Borgia, and I found him the least interesting. How much would the world have changed if Galileo had access to Da Vinci's notes? This was a good read about Italian history, the chaos around the selection of several Popes, and the three great men named in the title.
Florence as he wanted it to be.
As I had just travelled to Italy and learned for the first time (yes, I'm a bit late to the renaissance party) about characters such as Machiavelli and Borgia, I was really interested in exploring their lives and their personalities. While some assumptions made by Strathern seem a bit of a leap, especially considering the limited resources he would have had to have worked with, I believe that any reader of this book can separate fact from assumption and enjoy Strathern's interpretation of certain events or quotes. It's difficult to weave three main characters into one book and while Strathern did it admirably, it was still slightly confusing at times. Strathern has also created a bit of a mixed book, with focuses on not just the personal sides of the characters but the political spectrums of Italy.
Also, the author refers to Leonardo's attention to detail in painting Luke into the Last Supper.
Leonardo is a famously enigmatic character who left behind a relatively spare record for future historians, despite the thousands of his notebook pages that have survived.
The second, and sometimes related problem, is the author's tendency to speculate, sometimes without making it clear that that is what he is doing.
Paul Strathern (born 1940) is a British writer and academic.