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The Borgias: The Hidden History

Meyer, the author of this book, now lives in England and seems to have no academic post, though he used to teach in the US -- apparently at three different colleges -- and has his MA from the University of Minnesota.

The Borgias is aimed at a broad audience and is not particularly academic in form. It has a thin set of endnotes and (given the subject) a very thin bibliography. I say that as a matter of transparency, not that I would hold that against him. My last book had neither of those.

One enthusiastic reviewer has called Meyer's book "an incredibly interesting and quite frankly brilliant read, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in learning about the history of this fascinating family."

I won't review the book, I'll just quote the following passage, which concerns the relation between the Borgia family (especially Cesare) and the philosopher Machiavelli.

"Like everyone associated with Florence's post-Medici republic, [Machiavelli] celebrated the liquidation of men as dedicated to the restoration  of the old regime as Vitellozzo Vitelli and his henchmen. For him, however, the meaning of what Cesare had done went further. The murders removed any doubt, as far as he was concerned, about Valentino being a man of destiny -- about whether his talents, ambition, strength of will, and sheer ruthless courage made him the leader for which all Italy was unconsciously yearning, the one capable of freeing the peninsula from the barbarians."

Valentino, by the way, was a nickname of Cesare's derived from the title Duke of Valentinois bestowed upon him in 1498 by Louis XII of France.

Some thoughts on the significance of this passage tomorrow.


  1. Christopher,

    You quote:

    One enthusiastic reviewer has called Meyer's book "an incredibly interesting and quite frankly brilliant read, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in learning about the history of this fascinating family."

    What awful writing by that reviewer! Let’s start from the end of the sentence. We can delete “to anyone interested in learning about the history of this fascinating family.” To whom else would you recommend a book about the history of the Borgias?

    Moving backwards, we can delete “I would wholeheartedly recommend.” The reviewer has already said that the book is “incredibly interesting and quite frankly brilliant read,” so it goes without saying that he would recommend it. But, if he insists on redundantly recommending it, why doesn’t he do so straightforwardly instead of saying that he “would” recommend it?

    One word further back, we can delete “read.” We know that that’s what one does with books. The reviewer could have said that the book, “is incredibly interesting and quite frankly brilliant.”

    But, of course, the words “quite frankly” serve no purpose. Is the fact that he finds the book brilliant something that he would ordinarily hesitate to be frank about?

    So, we are left with “incredibly interesting and brilliant,” which consists of one empty adverb and two empty adjectives—empty in that none of the three words conveys any information other than that the reviewer liked the book.

    If you click on the link “called Meyer’s book,” you’ll also see that in both the sentence immediately before the one you quote and the sentence immediately after the one you quote, the reviewer calls the book “interesting” – so he tells us that it is interesting in three consecutive sentences. In the sentence immediately before the one you quote, he even uses “incredibly interesting,” so we have that in two consecutive sentences. In the sentence immediately after the one you quote, he calls it “inherently interesting,” which is meaningless. Can a book’s interest derive from something external to the book?


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