I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
Very important to note: this overview isn't for beginners. It's assumed going in that the reader knows the important names of the time, as the goal here is to weave these names together into a larger tapestry. If you're not up on your who's who of Renaissance Italy, Wiki will likely be your friend. And even if you are, it might be worth having it on standby every now and again. Even so, names aren't thrown at you without some context. It's just helpful to know who these people are other than to say "this one's a pope, that one's a warlord," and so on. The more you already know about the basics, the better positioned you'll be for getting the most out of what this book has to offer.
That said, this is a wonderful overview of the Italian Renaissance and all of the terrible things that defined it. The scope of this is astounding. It intertwines the worlds of art, merchant banking, politics, religion, and warfare so as to present everything as an inseparable whole. Add in the obligatory additions of disease, cultural differences, and taboos of every kind, and the end result is an amazingly insightful book. If those classic artworks could talk, what stories they could tell.
Interested in the era of the French Impressionists? Want to see how that singular group of artists fits in with the rest of the world around them? This is the book for you. Most art history books neglect or severely limit the social expectations and political situations when outlining their own histories. I tend to believe this is potentially the largest mistake any such book can make. This volume goes straight for it, giving the reader quite a bit of information on the reign of Napoleon III and the politics of the Salon, but the personalities of the artists at the center of this story still come shining through in a way that makes them human. As a result, the art they produce will mean more, which is the entire point of a book like this. The 3 M's - Meissonier, Manet, and Monet - are the ones the story most revolves around, being the biggest names of the era, but others are included to lesser extents. This is not a full biography of any of these artists. Rather, this is about putting them in the context of their time and place.
Unless the reader has a photographic memory and all-encompassing knowledge of the works of this time, it's recommended that references such as Google Images or Wiki be harnessed. This isn't necessary for every chapter, but when the individual works are discussed as part of the context of the story, it will help to know what those paintings look like. I find it also helps to be able to look up the artists and their models, just to put a face to the name.
For anyone who wants to dip their toes into the world of art history, this deceptively short book is an excellent place to start. The author gives you a list of the artists and works that are referenced, and even if you are immediately familiar with them, it's helpful to have them in front of you. A quick online image search is all you'll need for each of these works. The cross-section of works used are by no means fully representational of the era, but they do help to illustrate the author's text. From there, history, technique, and personality of the artists unfold. Much like with many of the best overview books out there, this is one that - assuming the reader is engaged with the material - it'll leave behind a solid foundation and provide a springboard for the reader to take the next steps into that world.