The startling truth behind one of the most notorious dynasties in history is revealed in a remarkable new account by the acclaimed author of The Tudors and A World Undone. Sweeping aside the gossip, slander, and distortion that have shrouded the Borgias for centuries, G. J. Meyer offers an unprecedented portrait of the infamous Renaissance family and their storied milieu.
They burst out of obscurity in Spain not only to capture the great prize of the papacy, but to do so twice. Throughout a tumultuous half-century - as popes, statesmen, warriors, lovers, and breathtakingly ambitious political adventurers - they held center stage in the glorious and blood-drenched pageant known to us as the Italian Renaissance, standing at the epicenter of the power games in which Europe’s kings and Italy’s warlords gambled for life-and-death stakes.
Five centuries after their fall - a fall even more sudden than their rise to the heights of power - they remain immutable symbols of the depths to which humanity can descend: Rodrigo, the Borgia who bought the papal crown and prostituted the Roman Church; Cesare, the Borgia who became first a teenage cardinal and then the most treacherous cutthroat of a violent time; Lucrezia, the Borgia as shockingly immoral as she was beautiful. These have long been stock figures in the dark chronicle of European villainy, their name synonymous with unspeakable evil.
But did these Borgias of legend actually exist? Grounding his narrative in exhaustive research and drawing from rarely examined key sources, Meyer brings fascinating new insight to the real people within the age-encrusted myth. Equally illuminating is the light he shines on the brilliant circles in which the Borgias moved and the thrilling era they helped to shape, a time of wars and political convulsions that reverberate to the present day, when Western civilization simultaneously wallowed in appalling brutality and soared to extraordinary heights. Stunning in scope, rich in telling detail, G. J. Meyer’s The Borgias is an indelible work sure to become the new standard on a family and a world that continue to enthrall.
©2013 G. J. Meyer (P)2013 Random House Audio
I have read a lot of books about the Borgias, and of all those on my bookshelf (actual volumes on the shelf, as well as audiobooks) this is far and away my favorite. I loved the author's approach, which for one thing takes the reader back to the very FIRST Borgia Pope (and here I didn't even realize that there WAS any other Borgia Pope than Rodrigo), and fills in all the lacunae which other authors have ignored. I found every detail fascinating because I really want to understand the events in Italy of this time period, and the details are what create a rich picture of the times for those of us who are looking back 1500 years. I also cannot imagine a more wonderful narrator for this book. He carried me along with him on this fascinating journey with his rich, mellifluous tones, and that was truly the icing on the cake, great marriage of narrator with material. If you are interested in the history of early Renaissance Italy, you should love this book !
This is a fascinating, historical re-imaging of the Borgias. HOWEVER, it is not a book that you can listen to while doing something else. Because the author takes the time to fill in the background situation, you learn as much about the history of the Italian city-states as about the Borgias. This is very useful, because it puts the Borgias into the culture of the time, in order to understand both the charges against the Borgias and the brutal culture of the times, but also reasons that the charges were exaggerated beyond recognition. While some would find the background details interesting, I could understand frustration with those who just wanted to get to the main subject. It is also one of those books that might be easier read than listened to.
However, if you are a real history buff, and have the patience to listen with care, this is one of the finest histories of the politics of the Italian Renaissance I have come across. It has taken me a little longer than usual to finish, but I have never been bored and have enjoyed every minute.
This audiobook is excellent in every respect. Its a GJ Meyer book, so the narrative style is spellbinding. I have listened to his other books as well, e.g. The World Undone and The Tudors, and his book on the Borgias is just as enjoyable.
GJ Meyer turns the entire sprawling anti-Borgia conspiracy on its head. This is sorely needed revisinist history, delivered in a very enjoyable fashion.
I dont really notice the narrator - that's how good he is. He just fades into the background, which makes for a great audiobook.
Say something about yourself!
The author postulates the idea that the legend of the Borgias has trumped scholarship for the last 500 years, and that the real story is far more interesting. That's always a great setup for a good narrative history, isn't it? If any family in history has been the recipient of bad press, it's the Borgia family. Corruption, blackmail, incest... the crimes perpetuated in the Borgia name know no bounds, made more sensational by the fact that the guy pulling the strings sat on the Papal throne. But is that reputation deserved?
Meyer did such a great job tackling the Tudor dynasty, I couldn't help but be drawn to this one. Admittedly, almost every text I've ever read on the Borgias fits the stereotype of what the author describes as the problem, and I do find his scholarship to be fascinating in the extreme. The book is so carefully laid out that the political backdrop for Rodrigo's rise to power takes up the first 8 hours out of a 20 hour presentation. It's so intricate by comparison of nearly everything else in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and yet so easy to follow with Meyer's expert guidance. It makes me wish I had this book years ago when I first dipped my toes into Renaissance history. Once the dominoes are put in place, the Papal crown is placed on Rodrigo's head, and from there more dominoes are put into place every bit as fast as the ones in play start falling. It's easy to understand why this is one of those stories that gets out of control quickly.
The Borgias may never escape their legend, but Meyer's account truly is compelling, starting with the claim, supported by recently uncovered Vatican records, that Rodrigo was elected pope fair and square, unanimously. This is the sort of spin you'll find here, and the story only unfolds from there, systematically dispelling myths and verifying truths one by one. If I were making a wish list, I would want Meyer to give us companion volumes for the Medici and Sforza lines. Such tales naturally intersect and are touched upon here, but the Borgia focus of the book does taper the narrative point of view a little bit. That's probably for the best since the total story from all sides would probably be a massive rodent killer of a book. Even so, I want that book. This one is a great start.
This is a really nice history of the Borgias, combining lots of crunchy background details with intriguing ideas about the key players. As others have pointed out, this is mainly a defense of the Borgias.
Of course, nobody can make saints out of any of the families that played the power game in Renaissance Italy. Meyer's approach is simply to ask the valid question, "let's just assume that the Borgias were, generally, not monsters -- but just the normal sort of power-hungry egomaniacs who rose to power in that time and place? Can that theory be made consistent with the actual historical record?"
The answer seems to be yes ... or sort of ... more or less. Meyer quite properly rejects the usual fables about incest, orgies, sadism, and the 50 other shades of really, really dark grey which usually pass for historical facts about the Borgias. On the other hand, he can still only make sense of the Borgias by uncritically accepting all the other fables and stereotypes of all the other leading characters of the time, from the Ottomans to the Sforzas. Even then, Cesare comes off looking rather psychotic (but neither depraved nor foolish).
So, draw your own conclusion on the thesis. The book -- right or wrong -- seems to be a successful attempt to walk the line between fairly serious scholarship and entertainment
I am an avid eclectic reader.
G. J. Meyer has a clear and engaging writing style that makes it easy to listen too but there is a lot of information so one must listen carefully. The book is well-research and provides some food for thought. The author tried to exonerate Rodrigo Borgia (pope name-Alexander VI). Meyer discounts most of the stories ever recorded that are negative to the Borgia's reputations. He chooses the best possible interpretation of all surviving written evidence. But he does acknowledge some of the darker myths. Anyone interested in the great families of Renaissance Italy should consider this book. History buffs will enjoy this book. Enn Reitel does a great job of narrating the book.
Enlightening, exhilarating, stimulating
No, but he does an good job. Most of the foreign names are pronounced correctly, but some of the Italian names are mispronounced (putting the accent on the right syllable can be tricky).
Some of the more negative reviewers seem to want more romance, but this book is a historical account, and though it cannot but be of interest to anyone who acquainted with the TV series or with other works of fiction, its greatest appeal is to those of us who have a real interest in history rather than in historical fiction. I find it hard to understand the criticism. The author takes great pains in reviewing all available sources, as well as in explaining what previous writers on the subject failed to do, yet some complain that there is "not enough" on the Borgias, or that the book represents but one view among others.
I found the book particularly worthwhile because it made me understand better Renaissance Italy (on which I had read quite a few books) and the nature of the papacy (I had already listened to a couple of books on the papacy but this one gave me a better perception of some aspects).
It is of course also wonderful to to see Alexander VI and Lucretia in a new light. Despite his faults and failings, Alexander was clearly among the better popes of the period, and if there were such a thing as Hell, he would surely be among the minority of popes to escape it.This book also made me wonder what others especially in the more distant past (when records were scant and much is based on hearsay) have had their reputation destroyed by calumny.
Say something about yourself!
Better than the TV show
I loved all the additional details regarding the Borja family. I enjoyed the writer's objectivity. It was as if he was a defense attorney for the Borgia family. He presented sound reason to illustrate why the Borgias were not the villians, of the Middle Ages.
Meyer's histories seem to have an angle. In The Tudors, it was "they aren't as good as you think." For the Borgias, it's "they're much better than you think."
The book is interesting and well researched, and I feel he proves his arguments in both works, but for some reason the angle felt distracting here.
I was also bothered by his need to demonstrate that Lucrezia Borgia in particular was an angel ("a model of womanly virtue") rather than the demon of her reputation. Why can't she just be a complex human being? Meyer's lack of understanding of women comes through in both works.
G.J. Meyer is to be highly commended for this excellent work. I enjoyed it and have recommended it to many people. My only objection his work is the background on the papacy. I think he would do well note that the Papacy is able to be traced all the way to St. Peter. And great men have done this, including St. Augustine. Here is a direct quote from that saint: “For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” Matthew 16:18 The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these:— Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius.” (St. Augustine, Letters 53:1:2, A.D. 412). I hope that Meyer continues to put out such good books. I have enjoyed all of them audible has offered so far.
"Great story... Impossible narration"
For story, it's great. For narration, it's in my bottom five audiobooks ever.
All of the Borgias were interesting in their own ways.
Somebody. Who. Can. Read. And. It. Doesn't.
Sound. Like. There. Is. A. Full. Stop. After. Every. Word. And.
No. Random. Pauses.
Please reissue this with a different narrator. Not only is the reading stilted, but there are obvious mispronunciations (beau-dlian library Oxford).
"not enough about the borgias"
it had too much information about the catholic church and other popes
didn't detract but the content was a bit dry
most of the book
if you want to know about challenges for the catholic church and the choice of popes this is for you
"Horses for Courses!"
Yes, because it is a truly complex story and there are so many names that I'd never heard of before that I would really like to listen again as it's am amazingly compelling story.
There aren't any particular moments as it's not that kind of book, G J Meyer writes a particular type of history - he also wrote The Tudors which is on Audible and I had listened to that before this one. Bear in mind that Meyer is an American and, just speaking personally, I always find that Americans writing on European history are overly kind to some of Europe's most notorious and infamous characters! But, on balance, he is reasonably fair and does at least put his metaphorical cards on the tablet right at the start. This is a redemption of the Borgia's, make no mistake. An apology if you will
The reason I entitled this "Horses for Courses" is that I was very nearly put off from this book by some of the near-vitriolic comments on Enn Reitel's performance.
Personally, I liked his narration as it is very rhythmic. Yes, he does stop and start a bit but it usually seems intended to emphasize inflection or tone, or perhaps actual punctuation in the book. I found it very easy to listen to but found his Italian and Spanish pronunciations quite hard to follow and/or understand at times.
I have no idea if his European pronunciations were good, but they certainly were very "Spanish" or "Italian" if you know what I mean?!
I would say to any other potential listener, don't be put off. Listen to the sample and see how you get on. I LOVE rhymic readers who read with a kind of lilt, nice clear up and downs. Mind you, I have high-functioning autism and often find nuanced inflections quite hard to follow and so I enjoyed Enn Reitel's very clear pauses, stops, comma spaces etc.
There have been so many films of The Borgias, all of which are mostly invented history. Similarly to the British obsession with The Tudors, who are characterized as caricatures mostly, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I bearing little resemblance to their truths, so it is with The Borgias.
Meyer is attempting to redeem ALL of the Borgias in this tome. No mean feat! I find some of his interpretations a little unconvincing personally but, then again, I am an historian professionally (not European history!) and so perhaps I expect more original source research. Meyer is very honest in his introductions that original source documentation is not really his 'thing' although, to be fair, he does introduce original sources and speak about them. However, he seems to rely heavily on other historian's work, some contemporaneous with The Borgias. This is fine other than he seems to pick historians who have been mostly discounted by historians of today for being biased or bigotted. Meyer states that they are biased and bigotted and that is his entire point really - they all had something to gain by slating The Borgias - and he's right. But, whether it is entirely legitimate to base your entire work on such accounts mostly in order to dismiss them, is another question.
However, Meyer writes with humour and intelligence and I found it a really enjoyable book and would highly recommend it to others.
"Not so great"
Yes to author - no to narrator
It might be me but I love books about the Borgias, Popes, The Vatican, Medieval history in general but this just sounded like a list of historical moments e.g. this happened, then that happened, then this happened, then that happened etc. etc. etc.
There weren't any characters it was one long yawn really
Yes listen to the samples before buying anything
No not really worth my finger power typing YAWN
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