My knowledge of Renaissance Italy is about as minimal as it can be and still have studied Western history. That is, I know a number of very famous names associated with some artwork just as famous; I know of a little of the politics… and that’s nearly it. It’s a lack that some of my reading has been filling in the edges of. (The Fourth Part of the World had a good section on the early Humanists.)

Elizabeth Lev’s biography of Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici is about some of the details of that era, and was still very easy to follow. Lev introduces a cast of characters and keeps them all straight (despite the usual problems of different people with similar names) with unusual ability. Caterina did not make it to the big times of international fame (though ‘Medici’ is one of the big names, and I realized I’d heard the the name ‘Sforza’ before too), but she is still very much a local hero. She has obviously become a hero for Lev as well, and despite some (sadly in keeping with the times) bad qualities, and excessive bloody-mindedness, at her best she was an excellent leader and Countess.

My main complaint is that Lev starts with a prologue from what can be called Caterina’s finest hour (I might argue it, but it certainly made her reputation). It makes a good introduction to her, but when the book catches up to that point near the end, that part is basically acknowledged and skipped over, leaving the reader to recall exactly what was said at the beginning of the book. Other than the hiccup of wanting to take the prologue and stick it between two other chapters, it was a well done biography throughout.