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Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence (2005)

de Tim Parks

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393949,039 (3.34)5
The Medici are famous as the rulers of Florence at the high point of the Renaissance. Their power derived from the family bank, and this book tells the fascinating, frequently bloody story of the family and the dramatic development and collapse of their bank (from Cosimo who took it over in 1419 to his grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent who presided over its precipitous decline). The Medici faced two apparently insuperable problems: how did a banker deal with the fact that the Church regarded interest as a sin and had made it illegal? How in a small republic like Florence could he avoid having his wealth taken away by taxation? But the bank became indispensable to the Church. And the family completely subverted Florence's claims to being democratic. They ran the city. Medici Money explores a crucial moment in the passage from the Middle Ages to the Modern world, a moment when our own attitudes to money and morals were being formed.To read this book is to understand how much the Renaissance has to tell us about our own world. Medici Money is one of the launch titles in a new series, Atlas Books, edited by James Atlas. Atlas Books pairs fine writers with stories of the economic forces that have shaped the world, in a new genre - the business book as literature.… (mais)
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Not interested in Italian Renaissance History? No problem! Aside from the fact that Parks is a good enough writer to make any subject interesting, this book is about far more than the Medici clan (though it's also a good place to start in relation to them). It's equally about the nature of money, and banking - with plenty of contemporary resonance.

For example:

"Usury alters things. With interest rates, money is no longer a simple and stable metal commodity that just happens to have been chosen as a means of exchange. Projected through time, it multiplies, and this without any toil on the part of the usurer. Everything becomes more fluid. A man can borrow money, buy a loom, sell his wool at a high price, change his station in life. Another man can borrow money, buy the first man's wool, ship it abroad, and sell it at an even higher price. He moves up the social scale. Or if he is unlucky, or foolish, he is ruined. Meanwhile, the usurer, the banker, grows richer and richer. We can't even know how rich because money can be moved and hidden, and gains on financial transactions are hard to trace." [pg13]

Parks talks about the book in interview with TMO here ( )
  Litblog | Dec 19, 2014 |
Tim Parks Medici Money is a somewhat peculiar look at the famed Medici family of renaissance Italy and the banking organization they were most recognized for. The book suffers from rather poor editing, with timeline jumps, poor sentencing and at times overbearing waffle - his explanation of monetary connections between the Medici provincial banks left me confused. His writing style doesn’t seem too far removed from that of a script to a light hearted documentary. I would say this is a good introduction to the 15th century Europe and the fame Medici family but sadly nothing more. ( )
  adamclaxton | Aug 18, 2013 |
Surprised by being so unsatisfied with Medici Money. I was expecting a great read but I found it confusing when it should have been easy to bring out the deeper contradictions within the legendary Medici. I didn’t appreciate what felt like a Wall Street Journal type of writing that didn’t offer a single theme (Achilles coupled with Savonarola). Not recommended, and I would think twice about trying to read anything else by the author. Parks seems talented enough to do great work, but this one isn’t.
1 vote sacredheart25 | Nov 12, 2012 |
This was a great fun book. It's an easy introduction to 15th Century Florence. I've read bits and pieces here and there about that time and place, but this book put the pieces together nicely. Of course it is not a long book and not a dense book either, so it is far from comprehensive. Really it is more of a starting point, a trigger to go read more.

Egads I don't think I ever realized that the Pope that Luther fought against was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. How about that!

I did find the writing style of the book a bit annoying. There are sentence fragments all over the place. It's not carelessly done - it's too consistent for that. It's just sort of deliberately informal, chatty. It wasn't a total obstacle - it was clear enough what the author was saying.

There were many fun references to our current social/political environment. That's a major theme of the book, the way that 15th Century Florence was the birthplace of our modern society. Of course any such hypothesis has to be simplistic to the point almost of absurdity. But the cartoon starkness of it makes it clearer. Maybe the reader will be motivated to study further, to fill in the subtleties. How was Luther different than Savonarola?

The tight relationship between money - banking - and politics: that's the core of it. How money has erased old family power. (There's one of those sentence fragments!)

Ah, there was a sentence in the book somewhere... in a productive economy, banks can make money by investing in productive enterprises. When all the productivity has moved elsewhere, the only money to be made is by encouraging the powerful to overspend on grand gestures, military and otherwise. Definitely many pointed references to present circumstances, though not always clearly labeled as such! ( )
2 vote kukulaj | Aug 3, 2012 |
Vlot geschreven introductie tot de wereld van de Medici in het vijftiende eeuwse Firenze. Oog voor zowel bankzaken als politiek als (de propagandistische waarde van) kunst. Het blijft allemaal wat aan de oppervlakte, maar geeft daardoor de essentie wel mooi weer. ( )
  brver | Aug 15, 2011 |
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The Medici are famous as the rulers of Florence at the high point of the Renaissance. Their power derived from the family bank, and this book tells the fascinating, frequently bloody story of the family and the dramatic development and collapse of their bank (from Cosimo who took it over in 1419 to his grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent who presided over its precipitous decline). The Medici faced two apparently insuperable problems: how did a banker deal with the fact that the Church regarded interest as a sin and had made it illegal? How in a small republic like Florence could he avoid having his wealth taken away by taxation? But the bank became indispensable to the Church. And the family completely subverted Florence's claims to being democratic. They ran the city. Medici Money explores a crucial moment in the passage from the Middle Ages to the Modern world, a moment when our own attitudes to money and morals were being formed.To read this book is to understand how much the Renaissance has to tell us about our own world. Medici Money is one of the launch titles in a new series, Atlas Books, edited by James Atlas. Atlas Books pairs fine writers with stories of the economic forces that have shaped the world, in a new genre - the business book as literature.

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