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

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  620 Ratings  ·  76 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 dipl ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2005)
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I highly recommend this book!

On a recent visit to Florence, my guide suggested several books to continue my learning of Renaissance Florence, including Medici Money. I am so glad she endorsed this book as it provides an excellent counterpoint to Paul Strathern’s The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance, which I read to prepare for my trip to Florence. While Strathern’s book is entertaining and far-reaching in its scope (the Ewings from Dallas have nothing on the Medici w
Mar 06, 2010 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 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 ar ...more
Anton Tomsinov
Oct 08, 2016 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 Medic ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Jan 01, 2010 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 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
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great read when you're visiting Florence. The book deals with the invention and flourishing of banking in general, and the history of the five generations of Medici power in Florence in particular. The word 'bank' deriving from the green bench or table at which the deals were made. The focus is on the relationship between banking, art and religion. Profit from charging interest was, without the benefit of modern economic theory, considered unfair and sinful, as the lender is evidently not work ...more
Maria Giddings
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Tim Parks has an interesting, sorta playful, and sarcastic approach to talking about the details of the Medici banking empire. I found the first few chapters of the book really long and hard to follow. There is a lot of strange money exchanging practices and types of currency moving around between Europe, Florence and Rome and I felt like that could have been explained a little better. But it could also just be that that sort of economic practice bedazzles and confuses me. After I got through th ...more
Não se iludam com o tamanho mas, este livro de não-ficção, tem muita informação histórica. O autor dá-nos a conhecer 5 gerações dos Médicis ligados à banca, desde o seu início e sucesso, até ao seu declínio.
Foi uma leitura interessante mas, na verdade, senti-me "bombardeada" com tanta informação pois o autor apresenta-nos, com grande detalhe, toda a sociedade de Florença.
Acabou por ser uma leitura diferente do que estava à espera pois, na verdade, julgava que seria um romance histórico, ou uma b
Nicholas Good
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Medici family founded their first bank in 1397 and had a hundred run through four generations during which they welded their wealth to dominate Florence, financially, politically, culturally and religiously. Their network of banks extended to Bruge, London, Paris and Lyon as well as throughout Italy until it collapsed in 1494. The two most prominent Medici were Cosimo who masterminded the growth of the banks, and his grandson Lorenzo who was passive caretaker of banking matters but highly in ...more
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 d ...more
Colleen Semanek
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this in anticipation of a trip to Italy. I wanted some knowledge and perspective for when I visit Florence. The book is not quite what I was looking for (more about the family/people than the bank), but it was definitely interesting and educational. Another example of how we as humans just do not learn from our mistakes!
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a very well researched, yet readable presentation of the rise and fall of the Medici banking empire.
The problem with this text, in my opinion, is that it lacks academic rigidity (sources) as well as fictional embellishments such as emotional motivation of the main characters.
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Fascinating! Read it while touring Italy and it really added to the experience.
Tom Herring
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Finished while traveling Italy. Loved learning more about the Medici family story. Easy to read.
Lauren Albert
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-european
There was no clear narrative thread. Parks seemed to jump about as his interests changed. I found it very confused and hard to follow.
Linda Hayashi
The PBS series, Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance led me to read this. Many socioeconomic practices then and now demonstrate control and power are entrenched.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interessant, maar voor mijn gevoel wilde de auteur het verhaal er te snel doorheen jassen.
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tim Parks is better known as a novelist than a writer of non-fiction and perhaps that's why I found his account of the rise and fall of the Medici family a little frustrating. When he describes the reality of life in Venice in the fifteenth century his writing is vivid and arresting:

Technology had not yet removed the ordinary things of life from view. Piss did not stream into clear water to be sucked away beneath gleaming porcelain. Shit steamed in the pan. If you were a florin kind of person, y
Jun 26, 2008 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 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
Sep 14, 2015 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 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 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 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 eco ...more
Jan 05, 2014 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
Aug 16, 2010 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
Jan 20, 2011 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 belief ...more
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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
“the city’s government seized and sold Church property until the” 1 likes
“Whenever, in a democracy, we see our rulers obsessed with “the technical aspects” of the electoral process, whenever we see them tinkering with the size of constituencies, or machinery for counting ballots, then we know we are getting close to “the secret things of our town,” the gap between respectable appearance and brutal reality.” 0 likes
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