Theodore K. Rabb is a well established historian of early modern Europe; his new book, RENAISSANCE LIVES: PORTRAITS OF AN AGE, is a fine introduction to the Renaissance designed for both popular and scholarly audiences. Rabb divides the book into ten topical chapters, each of which contains a brief biography of one or two Renaissance figures. While most of the biographies are of widely known people such as Petrarch, Titian, and Galileo, Rabb also takes care to include lesser known individuals such as artist Artemisia Gentileschi and printer and scholar Thomas Platter.
All of the fifteen biographies in this book are well researched and expertly written. The ones about Galileo and Teresa of Avila are especially vivid as portraits of two very different people, both of whom faced ecclesiastical resistance to their ideas. Rabb’s life of Artemisia Gentileschi is an effective, thought-provoking account of the difficulties faced by women artists in Renaissance Italy. In Rabb’s skillful hands, these and other biographies become means for discussing the social, economic, and intellectual life of Renaissance Europe. One may perhaps question Rabb’s loose employment of the term “Renaissance” (which can include even Wallenstein and Milton under its umbrella), but overall the book is one of the best introductions to this age available in English.