kathleen's Reviews > The Merchant of Prato, Francesco Di Marco Datini, 1335-1410

The Merchant of Prato, Francesco Di Marco Datini, 1335-1410 by Iris Origo
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's review
Feb 23, 2009

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bookshelves: histories
Read in February, 2009

A friend who knew of my interest in textiles recommended that I read this. Francesco Di Marco Datini was (among other things) a wool trader in 14th century Tuscany. The most interesting thing about the book is the raw materials the author uses to reconstruct Datini's life: he left unbelievably vast amounts of letters, business records, ledgers, all of which were discovered undisturbed and intact in the 1870s. Just the fact that all this material was left in a room under the stairs for over 400 years is mind-boggling. The sense I get from reading the book is that life for this citizen of Prato -- in its most basic form of human relationships -- was little different than it is today. Datini himself was not a very endearing character: he was a classic type-A, driven to make money, and worrying all the time that he would either lose it or not make enough. The fact that he was so obsessed with his businesses meant that he was rarely at home, and that fact actually helps us to get a glimpse of daily life because he wrote detailed, almost daily letters to his wife, obsessing about how she was conducting the business of running their home. She clearly had a sense of humor, because her letters in reply were patient but there was enough retort in them to show that she was definitely not just going to sit there and take it! Some of the book, particularly the part outlining Datini's business dealings, reads like a textbook, but once you get into daily life, the story comes to life. Medieval Italy never seemed so real before!
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