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The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet

Donald Weinstein

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Read Donald Weinstein's essay on the execution of Savonarola on the Yale Press Log.

A deeply considered new biography of the visionary Dominican by a leading Renaissance scholar

Girolamo Savonarola, the fifteenth-century doom-saying friar, embraced the revolution of the Florentine republic and prophesied that it would become the center of a New Age of Christian renewal and world domination. This new biography, the culmination of many decades of study, presents an original interpretation of Savonarola's prophetic career and a highly nuanced assessment of his vision and motivations.

Weinstein sorts out the multiple strands that connect Savonarola to his time and place, following him from his youthful rejection of a world he regarded as corrupt, to his engagement with that world to save it from itself, to his shattering confession—an admission that he had invented his prophesies and faked his visions. Was his confession sincere? A forgery circulated by his inquisitors? Or an attempt to escape bone-breaking torture? Weinstein offers a highly innovative analysis of the testimony to provide the first truly satisfying account of Savonarola and his fate as a failed prophet.

Donald Weinstein is professor emeritus, University of Arizona. He is the author of several books on Italian history and is a world authority on Savonarola and the Italian Renaissance. He lives in Sonoita, AZ.

“[A] luminous and learned biography . . . subtle, cogent . . . immensely compelling.”—Anthony Grafton, Lapham’s Quarterly

“A masterpiece of the genre. Donald Weinstein has succeeded in presenting a wholly coherent, finely balanced and deeply moving analysis of Savonarola, the man, the preacher, the reformer and the political leader. Weinstein's understanding and presentation of the complex political, social and religious contexts in which Savonarola operated are outstanding and unmatched by any other biographer.”—Lorenzo Polizzotto, The University of Western Australia

"Eminently readable, neither hagiographical nor overcritical, the biography, which will surely become the definitive account of this Renaissance prophet, leads us through the drama of Savonarola's life, allowing the man himself to emerge from generously-quoted sermons, letters and chronicles, as well as from the author's own deeply-researched and judicious narrative."—Alison Brown, author of The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence

“The genius of Renaissance history lies in its capacity to remain forever contemporary. Donald Weinstein's smooth biography brilliantly reveals Savonarola as a man for our unstable and risk-riven times, dangerously mixing charismatic leadership, governance and fundamentalist religion.”—Kate Lowe, Queen Mary University of London

“Since his early research some forty years ago in the history of Renaissance Florence, Donald Weinstein has concentrated on that city’s religious life. His new biography of Girolamo Savonarola is a testimonial to his vast erudition, and to his penetrating insights into that complex world. Weinstein focuses on the Dominican friar’s role as a prophet, and his vision of Florence as the new Jerusalem. This dramatic account of the rise and fall of a major historical figure is an important contribution to the history of Florence during one of its most traumatic phases.”—Gene Brucker, Professor Emeritus, University of California Berkeley

“…this new biography represents the definitive English-language account of its subject. It offers the kind of exhaustive yet balanced assessment of the controversial friar’s life that can only be produced by an expert writing at the culmination of his academic career.”—Jerry Brotton, Literary Review

“Weinstein presents a reasoned and fair view of his subject as friar, preacher, prophet and politician.”—Grahame Lock, The Tablet

“Weinstein’s scrupulously researched finely balanced life is both a complex portrait of a fascinating figure and of a uniquely and creative time.” –Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

“An excellent narrative study, very well written and judicious. . . . Highly recommended.”—P. Grendler, Choice

“This impeccable book is the culmination of Donald Weinstein’s lifelong study of the Italian Renaissance and is a must-read for anyone interested in Savonarola. With customary learning, insight and lucid prose, Weinstein provides an exceptionally vivid portrait of one of the most controversial and fascinating figures of early modern Italy.”—Stefano Dall’Aglio, University of Leeds

“Commendable . . . eloquently written and universally approachable . . . appealing to both general and specialist readers alike.”—Hasan Niyazi, Three Pipe Problem 

“Excellent . . . a nuanced and engaging study of a man too often caricatured . . . [a] fine piece of scholarship.”—Ryan Sayre Patrico, First Things

“A moving and magisterial biography . . . a powerful narrative . . . [a] splendid book . . . at once empathetic and discerning.”—John M. Najemy, Catholic Historical Review

“Elegantly written . . . remarkable . . . Weinstein understands both the man and prophet like no other . . . an impeccable account." —Alessio Assonitis, Sixteenth Century Journal

“Insightful . . . a balanced and often intriguing portrait of a gifted but troubled soul.” —Robert E. Scully, S.J., America

Weinstein offers a ‘scholarly’, ‘stylish’ and ‘quizzical scrutiny’ of his subject - Bernard Manzo, Times Literary Supplement

"David Weinstein's elegantly written Savonarola is a perfect culmination—and, at the same time, continuum—to this wave....With remarkable skill, he constructs a historical narrative gracefully punctuated by the more poignant passages from Savonarola's sermons and treatises, a vast territory, which he has charted like few others...[P]resents an impeccable account of Savonarola as a prophet and political leader, and merits a prominent place in the library of every dedicated scholar of Renaissance Italy."—Alessio Assonitis, Sixteenth Century Journal

“The most balanced, comprehensive, and readable biography of the fierce prophet written to date. Savonarola should be welcomed by historians of religion as well as by readers who are interested in the figure of zealous Dominican reformer or in premodern Italy.”—Journal of Modern History

“A definitive account of Savonarola and his times.”—William Grimes, New York Times

“[Savonarola] is a labor of love, a story well told, and a potential source of inspiration for teachers and students alike.”—Stella Fletcher, Renaissance Quarterly

Won Honorable Mention for the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival in the Biography/Autobiography category
ISBN: 9780300111934
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
400 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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