‘The Florentines’ Review: Where Art and Business Met

To be a Florentine confers upon an Italian a measure of distinction unmatched by residence in any other city. The distinction may be unearned, but it is felt, for better or worse. Yet Florentines, and Tuscans in general, don’t enjoy a reputation for sociability. Other Italians commonly accuse them of being overly intellectual, brooding, withdrawn, even wily. Years ago a Neapolitan cab driver blithely assured me that Florentines were “serpents.”

The journalist Curzio Malaparte, himself a Tuscan, wrote a book in the 1950s titled “Those Damned Tuscans.” The idea was to play upon the dissonance between the supposed deviousness of these super-sophisticated people and their exceptional creativity. Of both traits there is plenty of evidence in Paul Strathern’s “The Florentines,” a thought-provoking re-examination of the great Florentine artists, scientists and business wizards of the Renaissance. Mr. Strathern is a noted British cultural…

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