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Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  472 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
Before they achieved renown as patrons of the arts and de facto rulers of Florence, the Medici family earned their fortune in banking. But even at the height of the Renaissance, charging interest of any kind meant running afoul of the Catholic Church’s ban on usury. Tim Parks reveals how the legendary Medicis—Cosimo and Lorenzo “the Magnificent” in particular—used the ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2005)
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Mar 13, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2000s, history
For the last few months I've been studying Italy during the Renaissance. And I've been researching it in the only logical way for a studious college grad to study anything: wikipedia.

Well, not JUST wikipedia. Also, other Renaissance-focused websites that I could never reference if writing an article for ANYTHING. Fortunately, the research isn't for any kind of reputable writing. It's for the fantasy novel I've been slowly brewing these past few months. Subjects I need to study for this book: th
Jun 16, 2011 Salem rated it it was amazing
A very engaging narrative and a nice mixture of history and finance. Of all the history books I’ve read, this is by far the most fun to read. The best thing I came out with after reading this book is the similarities between our modern-day life and the world back in the 15th century. Although we tend to think differently, the motivations and struggles that existed back then still exists today in most societies. Except for the speed of transportation and communication, most of our human habits ...more
Anton Tomsinov
Oct 08, 2016 Anton Tomsinov rated it did not like it
I thought this would be something about the financial part of the Medici history, in vein of Raymond de Roover’s The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank, 1397–1494, but the book tells all the same things other books say about ‘rise and decline, decline, decline of the Medici’. Too bad, even for a non-academic book. There are no references, but I suppose that most information comes from a very limited number of other books. In fact, the author's comments about the academic literature on the ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Jan 01, 2010 Gerald Sinstadt rated it it was amazing
Medici Money is, in the author's words, "a brief reflection on the Medici of the fifteenth century - their bank; their politics; their marriages, slaves and mistresses; the conspiracies they survived; the houses they built and the artists they patronized." And so indeed it is, 250 smoothly readable pages, informed by a mind that might seem cynical were it not expressed with an acerbic wit.

Take, for example, Tim Parks on an occasion when the public debt was running out of control. "The governmen
Nov 05, 2014 Bart rated it liked it
It's a good, concise overview of how the Medicis operated and came to power (and lost it) in Florence. What it lacks was a little bit more context. While keeping the focus entirely on the Medicis made it easier to follow on a number of levels, I do wish we had heard a little more about the other players in Italy - especially the Popes, figures like Savonarola, and the artists they employed.

The other thing I had an issue with was Parks' writing style. He likes short sentences. A lot. He uses them
This is a book with incredibly interesting content that is let down by inadequate writing and mediocre composition. In terms of content, this book is incredibly fascinating. This book is quite brief, and there is nothing wrong with that. Its abbreviated size means that it should have been an excellent way to introduce oneself to the world of late medieval/early Renaissance Florence and Northern/Central Italy. This is the guide book that one can pick up before trying to read a more detailed and ...more
Nov 11, 2016 Stoic_quin rated it really liked it
Interesting - very high level history of early Medici
Nov 25, 2016 Mark rated it liked it
The Medici family bank lasted about 100 years, Florence still wears their legacy. Interesting book as it goes into the biblical and philosophical discussions of loaning money. I learned a lot. Warring families, marriages not for love, development of international finance and the role of the Papacy in finance all touched on.
Jul 07, 2009 Joe rated it really liked it
As the title indicates, the book undeniably exposes the money of the Medici as it relates to their banking and patronage – artistic/dogmatic, in Florence during the 1400’s. It features the Renaissance Medici men from Giovanni Di Bicci to Piero di Lorenzo (respectively the first and the last of that era; the era of the Medici bank) and those that surrounded them – the godly and the diabolical. This book is somewhat misleading or rather – it didn’t fulfill my expectation or anticipation. The book ...more
Dec 26, 2012 Scott rated it it was ok
Parks brings us 100 years of Florentine history, from 1389 to 1494 - it's the rise and fall of the Medicis, the invention of international banking, and the Renaissance. While it's a complex book, he does well by laying out a chronology, and a chapter of "The Big Picture" in the front of the book. This telling of what he's going to tell us keeps you from getting lost during the progress of the book.

Parks has two basic principles for his theme - first, loan money and you are a usurer and condemned
D.D. Price
Jul 29, 2016 D.D. Price rated it did not like it
Shelves: terrible
Nonfiction should teach you something regarding the subject at hand. One chapter into this book and I learned nothing, my head was about ready to implode from the headache induced from the painful exercise my eyes had to work in reading through the author's excruciatingly bad use of the English language and scatterbrained ideas (kinda like that sentence). History should be cohesive and clear but the author seems unable to settle down and focus on one particular point for a moment, or even follow ...more
Oct 07, 2008 Three rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history and/or finance
Not interested in Italian Renaissance History? No problem! Aside from the fact that Parks is a good enough writer to make any subject interesting, this book is about far more than the Medici clan (though it's also a good place to start in relation to them). It's equally about the nature of money, and banking - with plenty of contemporary resonance.

For example:

"Usury alters things. With interest rates, money is no longer a simple and stable metal commodity that just happens to have been chosen as
Jan 23, 2012 S'hi rated it really liked it
The fascinating thing about this book is its ability to describe illusory elements of society and power, as if they are able to be observed despite the deliberate means used to obscure them. There are a number of references to “the secrets of our town” and each reference holds a sense of a different kind of understanding between those who know and the rest of us who may feel some inkling from time to time but can never be really sure.

Medici Money is a book about power, authority and influence. I
Aug 09, 2010 Dpdwyer rated it it was ok
This wasn't what I was hoping it would be, but he is a good writer. In 1400, at the beginning of the Medici banks, loaning money for interest, was, according to the Church, just about the worst sin possible. You could buy and sell slaves, father children with your servants and mistresses, but don't lend money. The rise of international trade almost required credit (and thus interest), so they came up with devious ways to get around the ban and eventually to bring the Church around. Since our ...more
Mar 09, 2014 Lynda rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
A guided tour of the rise and fall of the Medici banking empire of the Fifteenth century, framed by attitudes toward banking, in general, and the enlivened by the personalities of the key players. Came away from it with more respect for Cosimo d'Medici than his grandson, Lorenzo. And with a dizzy awareness of the convoluted and complex conspiracies, deceptions, mercenary-fought wars and general intrigues of the period. The first time I encountered Machiavelli's book, "The Prince", I thought its ...more
Sep 02, 2010 Julie rated it really liked it
An interesting read; Parks has a slightly less academic approach to the history of the Medici's and their banks in Italy and throughout Europe. He is most entertaining when talking about the nature of banking in the fifteenth century and the inherent contradictions that arise from running a business that's main profits derive from something that is considered a mortal sin (usury). I liked the book less when Parks talks more in depth about the lives of the Medici - mostly Lorenzo. His tone is too ...more
Scott Kellicker
Feb 13, 2011 Scott Kellicker rated it really liked it
Really fascinating book. Always knew the Medici as noble arts patrons-- and they were certainly the arts patrons-- but this sketches the history of their bank in Europe. Some of the more fascinating aspects:

Usury was considered a mortal sin. So banks really didn't lend money at interest or borrow money at interest-- they lent money with no strings attached and -- wink wink-- the borrower would give the lender a periodic gift.

The Vatican and various bishops and cardinals were some of the biggest
So what if Parks gets a bit too clever with his prose in places. For the most part this is a fascinating story, winningly told, with a sprinkling of humor (except for a few lines that fall flat), a strong opinion about previous Medici scholarship, a master class in power, leadership, and money, and a fervently subversive reminder of just how much the current powers that be (in finance and politics, but especially in banking and Fortune 500 golden parachute-dom) are farcically reenacting the same ...more
Leonardo Etcheto
Fascinating overall view and really informative about how it all worked and the motivation and minscape for the Medici’s over time. The details of the politics are exhausting, and this is just an overview. I have definitely learned I have no interest in reading a more academic overview of the back and forth. They really wasted a lot of time on plotting on sniping. It is a difficult think to visualize for me all the internal conflicts the Medicis and humanists had to navigate between their ...more
Dec 20, 2015 Jack rated it it was ok
Shelves: 3-renaissance
A fascinating period of history, filled with intricate characters, odd changes of tide, and unforeseen twists is rendered adequately here, albeit in a writing stile that is grating at best. Parks' repeated use of incomplete sentences in a play to sound catchy only irks. On a substance note, characters in the story of the Medici often suffer from inadequate amounts of coverage. Obviously space is limited, but it can be a challenge to understand why someone is important if that is never made ...more
Mar 01, 2016 Ed rated it really liked it
This is a short, serious book that is nonetheless written in an engaging style. Parks focus, as the title suggests is on the rise and fall of the bank. I read it out of an interest in the origins of banking. Parks discussion of Cosimo de Medici provides a lucid account of how banking operated in the fifteenth century. He goes on to discuss Cosimo's heirs and argues that their neglect of banking fundamentals and involvement in politics undermined the bank itself. If you are interested in the ...more
Jan 31, 2008 Eric rated it liked it
This is a cool book but not nearly as cool as I thought. It was voted one of the best books of the year (2007?) by Economist. This book certainly teaches the reader about the time when it is set - 1400 Florence (and Italy in general). However, I feel as though there have to be better books out there that cover this time period and these characters and their important impact on society via artists, Catholic popes and their control of the city of Florence than this book. And if there isn't a ...more
Sep 03, 2015 Sneha rated it it was ok
The book deals with themes that interest me: Economic meddling, Renaissance Italy, art patronage by the Church, political subterfuge. Despite that, it left me under awed. The characterization of Cosimo and Lorenzo is half-hearted, the text switches randomly from Park's commentary of the times, to a 15th century banker talking about Cosimo/Lorenzo to Cosimo/Lorenzo overtaking the dialogues. Does Medici Money give an insight into 15th century Italian socio, economic, political and cultural ...more
Jun 26, 2015 Dryopteris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I liked the conversational style of the author, making you feel like you were listening to an eloquent speaker and presenter, rather than reading a history book. Since this is the first book I have read on this topic, I cannot really objectively comment on the qualitative aspects of the book, but I liked very much how the historical context was intertwined with the Medici family's evolution. Even got a few further bibliographical references out of it, which I will put on my "to read" list -- ...more
Oct 28, 2015 Clare rated it really liked it
Very interesting book about the Medici bank. Upsides: very well written and mostly easy to read (see below), doesn't follow the Medici all the way to the end so a guarantee to avoid the homophobia you get in other books on the Medici I've read. (A few of the last reigning Medici were incompetent and, you know, the last powerful members of their family and also gay men. These two facts are not related!)

Downside: sometimes had weird, unwieldy sentences that were clearly meant to be beautiful but
Laurence Parkes
Sep 10, 2016 Laurence Parkes rated it really liked it
A well-informed and enjoyable romp through three generations of Medicis across the fifteenth century. Tim Parks does a great job of exploring the differing styles and preoccupations of the three patriarchs. Also discussed are the conflicting ideas of an age at the beginning of the modern era, including the birth of banking at a time when lending for profit was both morally and legally outlawed. The authors catty superiority over other writers of Renaissance history (especially in the ...more
Sophie Brathwaite
Aug 01, 2016 Sophie Brathwaite rated it liked it
Not so enthralling. A lot of Italian slang words used and name dropping supposedly famous characters - neither of which I had the prior knowledge to cope with. Consequently the book became a jumble of jargon and I was left wondering on the outside.. Until I gave up on it 2/3s through. I'm sure it's a better book if you know Italian and Italian history quite well already, but for me this booked dulled a passion.
Joseph Scipione
Apr 06, 2013 Joseph Scipione rated it liked it
I don't read many business books and even though there is a lot of history in this book it's labeled business. I don't know if it is the fact that I not used to reading business books but I felt the author was coming across as very arrogant, again maybe this is just the way business books are written. Given that,the book was great at providing insight into the business and wealth of the Medici family.
Albert Drouart
Good introduction to the period - in the end the complexity is layered and the book feels a bit rushed in the end. So I finished this book with a deeper desire to dig deeper - lots of "tip of the iceberg" feelings - the church, the Medici, the bank, trade and beyond of this period in history feel like worthy subjects for further study. One practical thought - how many banks are still closely tied with politics? More than we probably realize....
Jun 17, 2012 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating explanation of Italian politics and culture in the Renaissance, and it gave a good perspective on the battles over wealth and power that kept the Italian peninsula politically fragmented for so long. The rise of the Medici family was based on the banking wealth they acquired over the course of two or three generations, and the fall was the result of the neglect of banking for the involvement in politics in Florence and elsewhere.
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Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He has written eleven novels including Europa, Destiny, Cleaver and, most recently, Dreams of Rivers and Seas, as well as three non-fiction accounts of life in northern Italy (most recently A Season with Verona), a collection of 'narrative' essays, ...more
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