13 October 2011

Post 435: The Tigress of Forli

The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev. ISBN: 9780151012992 (eGalley - publishes: October 20, 2011).

It's books like this that make me think people who say, "history is boring," are reading the wrong god damned books and/or have sticks in the mud for teachers and/or have teachers who are forced to teach on a curriculum which is based on getting people to pass a test. This book is about an Italian countess by the name of Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici. She did everything that Joan of Arc did, in a dress and while pregnant and dealing with the soap opera-esque politics of Italy in the Renaissance.

People seem to forget that history is made up of the stories of people who have done incredible things or lived in incredible times. While most of history has been comprised of the doings of men, this is only because men have, er, historically been the ones studying and recording... history. Even Caterina's stories and what we know of her are still filtered through male chroniclers, yet her own words are also preserved in letters and as there were several accounts of her doings there is a greater chance for discerning what actually happened. People who find picking through misleading details and attempting to get at the truth behind authorial prejudice tedious must also be the ones who refrain from workroom gossip or watching reality shows or reading The Enquirer or celebrity magazines... Which... I'm not sure such a person exists. At some point we all prick our ears up when we hear juicy tidbits about our neighbors, even if we never spread the rumor and even if the rumor is false. Just knowing that the information is out there gives our big social brains a jolt.

And really, history is just outdated gossip. Since few people are around to tell firsthand accounts, we aren't going to get trustworthy accounts, and even people who were there aren't going to give us trustworthy accounts because people are people. If history were exact it would be a science and I would be employed and well paid right now, but people are fucking complex creatures with faulty wiring and motives. What people don't understand about historians is that in order to be a good one, you have to be able to: detect the bullshit; determine if there was a motive for the bullshit in the first place; and then frame the bullshit, preferably in an enjoyable and readable manner, into a narrative. It's not just saying, "This happened because of this and then this happened after that." It's about context and politics and sex and disease and money and the crazy shit people believe in and how they act according to all those things.

Lev knows all of this and has created a near George R.R. Martin-esque narrative (minus the sister-brother incest and dragons). While it still reads a bit dry compared to fiction, it is rich and well worth reading for those interested in a good story, and all the more thrilling when you realize that it is true. Or at least as true as we know it to be for now.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.


  1. this post convinces me that you should write some kind of historical biography or account of something. then sell it and make millions of dollars. yep yep.

  2. Hm, actually, an idea popped into my head about Vlad the Impaler being reincarnated as a fat teenager. I would call it Vlad the Inhaler. Poor, poor misunderstood Vlad.


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