Jerry Brotton

The Mad Prophet and Mach the Knife

Savonarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet


Yale University Press 379pp £25 order from our bookshop

Machiavelli: A Life Beyond Ideology


Continuum 337pp £25 order from our bookshop

On 2 and 3 March 1498, the 29-year-old 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. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,
    • Here's @epkaufm's Whiteshift, reviewed in this month's magazine by ,