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Books on Monday: Fire in the City

Anybody with an interest in history will know "who Savonarola was," but what does this mean? Yes, he's the "Bonfire of the Vanities" guy who inspired Florentines to burn their gewgaws at Carnival - an improvement over the regular custom of throwing rocks at people. But thinking about Savonarola means trying to think fifteenth-century thoughts - trying to see the world without our far more reflective and knowingly psychological habits of mind. In his new book, Fire in the City, Lauro Martines does a very good job of teaching us how to do pull this off.

Read about Fire in the City at Portico.


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What is it about societies which convulse and go about trying to "cleanse" themselves morally by destroying beauty? Communist China felt the need to shatter antique porcelain, burn calligraphic scrolls and kill off song birds as "decadent" (they rued that last decision when the insects the "decadent" birds held in check caused widespread crop destruction and famine.)

Savonarola did not just burn carnival masks and party dresses, but urged the destruction of wonderous works of art and rare copies of books merely because they had been beautifully bound. I will find it interesting to follow up the subject in Lauro Matines' book, though my suspicion is that, when the bonfire began to consume priceless jewels, certain family patriarchs may have decided that what next to be consigned to the flames should be Savonarola himself...

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