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Book Review: Medici Money by Tim Parks

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It’s not often you get to see a family business close-up over four generations. Thanks to the scrupulous accounting practices of 15th-century Florentines and the sparkling storytelling of Tim Parks, you can.

Medici Money zooms in on the famous – or infamous – Medici banking dynasty, beginning with the prudent Giovanni di’ Benci de Medici in the late 1300s to ‘Il Magnifico’, Lorenzo de Medici, who sent the company bankrupt, but in grand style.

You’ll often hear about the Medicis in connection with art, and while art plays an important role in this book, this is mostly about the intersection of commerce, religion and politics that took place in just under 100 years.

Tim Parks, the author, is better known as a novelist, not as a historian, and his flowing prose is welcome relief to a reader used to wading through more academic accounts. What’s best is that Parks realizes there are a lot of people and places to keep track of here, so he lays out the information carefully at the beginning. But in case you still get lost, he doesn’t fail to remind you of who’s who throughout the book. Parks is extraordinarily considerate to his readers.

His intimate knowledge of Italian history and geography also comes out of every pore of this book (if books had pores). This is one of those books that, while covering roughly a century very quickly, makes you feel like you’ve been there and met the people.

Medici Money is not just an idle look back either. Parks uses modern situations and parallels to help the reader who hasn’t visited 15th-century Florence understand why seemingly trivial things like lending at interest were so important.

If you’re interested in history, politics, business, art or just people, this book is wide-ranging enough to interest you.

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About Simon Young

  • Thanks for the review. You’re right. I do associate the Medici family with art and a whole lot of power, so it will be interesting to read about this side of the family.