Book Review: Fortune is a River

Reviewer: Joe Rooney

Title: Fortune is a River
Author: Roger D. Masters
Publisher: Not Given
ISBN: Not Given

I just got finished reading Fortune is a River by Roger D. Masters and thought I'd write a mini review of it.

The author, Roger masters is the Nelson A. Rockefeller Professor of Government at Dartmouth College. Why, you might ask would a professor of Government write a book on medieval history? Well, it seems Masters has spent much of his academic work studying the political philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the chief characters in Fortune is a River. The book is really a dual biography of Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci, which focuses on the collaberation of these two giants on a failed project to divert the Arno River during a war between Florence and Pisa.

Though there is not really a central thesis in this work, the book is a very nice narrative of the lives of these two men. In the process, it also gives us a look at the realities of 14-15th century Italian politics. What struck me about the account given by Masters is the emphasis on the failures both Machiavelli and da Vinci encountered in their professional lives. One does not usually think of the giants of Western culture as encountering failure. After all they are not giants because of the failures, but rather for their accomplishments. But Masters shows that one aspect of their greatness was their perseverence in the face of adversity.

All in all, I thought it was an enjoyable read. Not being an expert on Renaissance politics, I can't comment on the accuracy of Master's analysis on this point, though the book seems to be well researched and documented. The documentation of the book deserves a special comment. There are 211 notes in this 211 page book. However, to start the Notes section at the end of the book, Masters indicates that he has provided merely a basic documentation of his work. For a more scholarly version of his notes, the reader is invited to visit his website at Dartmouth. I've never seen this done before, so I thought I'd note it. It seems an interesting compromise between publisher and scholar. perhaps other authors will make use of it.

Review Rating: 4-Good

Written: 2 Feb, 2000

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