Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Sexuality in School: The Limits of Education” by Jan Gilbert— The Role of Sexuality in Teaching and Learning

sexuality in school

Gilbert, Jan. “Sexuality in School: The Limits of Education”, University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

The Role of Sexuality in Teaching and Learning

Amos Lassen

When sexuality comes into the classroom there are inevitably clashes and controversies and this is what Jan Gilbert investigates in this book. We know that this is an explosive topic but it also important as a way of showing how our most intimate experiences influence how we see and behave in the world of today. Gilbert narrows the gap between queer theory and educational studies. She uses the psychoanalytic method that allows us to deal with the difficulties of education and the questions of youth and age, along with their uncertainties. She looks at the

Difficulties that are so much a part of teaching and she invites educators to try to understand the various challenges of desire, hospitality and possibility. Gilbert gives us a way to explore education in general and to understand more fully the particularities of youth and sexuality.

Instead of attempting to understand the bullying of LGBT youth and the battles over sex education as interruptions of the process of learning. Gilbert looks at how sexuality influences learning and can enliven the teaching process.

She argues for the inclusion of the study of sexuality because when schools limit the reach of such a subject, it could possibly shut down altogether.

She looks at fiction, film, legal case studies, and personal experiences and then poses the question of what we can learn about school by the study of sexuality.


Introduction: Queer Provocations 

  1. Backward and Forward: Narrating the Queer Child 2. There Is No Such Thing as an Adolescent: Sex Education as Taking a Risk 

  2. Histories of Misery: It Gets Better and the Promise of Pedagogy 

  3. Thinking in Sex Education: Between Prohibition and Desire

5. Education as Hospitality: Toward a Reluctant Manifesto





“Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene” by Bobby Benedicto— Men of Means in the Third World

under bright lights

Benedicto, Bobby. “Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene”, University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Men of Means in the Third World

Amos Lassen

 Using ethnographic research and first-person storytelling techniques to capture the true experience of Manila, author Bobby Benedicto gives us something we would not expect to learn about Manila and from this we get a counterintuitive portrait of gay spaces in postcolonial cities. His argument is “that Filipino gay men’s pursuit of an elusive global gay modernity sustains the very class, gender, and racial hierarchies that structure urban life in the Philippines”. Basically what we get here is a look at privileged gay men in Manila.

We are all familiar with the concept of a gay world that is marked by gay-friendly dance clubs, upmarket bars, and party circuits. However, we must ask if this is the same in “a landscape of disorder, mass poverty, and urban decay”? What we see is that this is a world of contradictions as reflected through the prism of twenty-first-century Manila. The study challenges the popular interpretations of the “third world queer” as a necessarily radical figure.

Benedicto looks at how practices such as driving enable the emergence of a classed gay cityscape, and how scenes of networked global cities engender discourse that positions Manila within a global system of “gay capitals.” He also analyzes the way the fantasy of “gay globality is imperiled when privileged gay men from Manila, while traveling abroad, encounter Filipino labor migrants and come face-to-face with the exclusionary racial orders that operate in gay spaces overseas”.


Prologue: City of Contradictions 

Introduction: Making a Scene

  1. Automobility and the Gay Cityscape
  2. Elsewhere, between Palawan and the Global City 

  3. The Specter of Kabaklaan
  4. Transnational Transit and the Circuits of Privilege 

  5. White Noise and the Shock of Racial Shame

Coda: Nowhere to Go





“The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Kittredge Cherry and Douglas Blanchard— Jesus as a Gay Man Today

the passion of christ

Kittredge, Cherry (author) and Douglas Blanchard (artist). “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision”, Apocryphile Press, 2014.

Jesus as a Gay Man Today

Amos Lassen

I did not think that I would ever see a book like this but then I also never thought I would see the LGBT community gain the acceptance that it has. The world is changing very quickly and I just want to keep up. Here we have stunningly beautiful images of Jesus as the modern Christ as he is “jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God”. We see him on a journey with his diverse friends as he moves from suffering to freedom.

Here are twenty-four paintings in the gay Passion of Jesus’ final days and they include his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. We know and see that Christianity is being used to justify hate and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and that is why this book is so important. Each image is accompanied by insightful commentary and a short prayer and scripture leading us to ask if Jesus were to come back today, would he be crucified again? Would we even recognize him?

What these paintings really do is show Jesus as not belonging to any particular time or place or as a member of any specific or single group. Author Cherry says, “A queer Passion is crucial now even for non-believers because Christianity is being used to justify discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  The book speaks not only to the LGBT community, but to everyone who is passionate about building a more just world.”

We especially see this in that the artist takes Jesus and the narrative about him and then rescues it from fundamentalist thought and from the familiar thoughts about him. What makes the book so special aside from the wonderful art and commentary is that it serves two purposes—it is a great help for meditation and it gives as informative analysis for secular readers who are interested

in religion, art, history, and LGBT studies. Here the emphasis is not on worship but rather to show us how to remember that the purpose of thinking about what is here is the continuous cycle of violence and a way to move toward the freedom we all deserve. Cherry reminds us that the Passion is “the ultimate affirmation that God stands in solidarity with humankind.” 

Artist Blanchard says that by showing Jesus in his sufferings is to see him as one who understands what it means to be an “unwelcome outsider.” Michael Bronski of Harvard says that the book is

“transformative in the most profound sense of the word.” Whether you are religious or not, it is impossible to read ‘The Passion of Christ’ without having your basic beliefs shaken and expanded.”

“Disturbing, but ultimately glorious… Radically transforming…” –from the afterword by Toby Johnson, religion scholar and author of Gay Spirituality

“I was deeply moved by this retelling of the Easter story.” –Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches

“Together the paintings and text forced me to see Jesus again… as a living, breathing, sensual son of man whom I want to know more intimately.” –Rev. Dr. Mel White, founder of Soulforce

“Deeply effective and brings to life the Passion not only for the LGBT community but for all people struggling to find themselves in the narrative and make sense of their faith.” –Rev. Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

 “This marvelous book will speak not only to LGBTIQ Christians, but also to anyone who is passionate about creating a more just world for the marginalized and excluded.” –Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Episcopal Divinity School professor

 “The divine leaps from these pages into open hearts. Few will view this art and read these commentaries without weeping for injustice and committing to love.” –Mary Hunt, co-director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

“Not only is this a compellingly gay and much-needed re-visioning of the central Christian mystery.  It also defiantly reaffirms our common humanity.” –Donald L. Boisvert, Concordia University religion professor

“Here Kittredge Cherry and Douglas Blanchard make Jesus live. For new trials and times, new faces and places, challenging our conceptions, preconceptions, and misconceptions.” –S. Brent Plate, Hamilton College religion professor and author of Blasphemy: Art that Offends

 “A great contribution to art about Jesus. Paintings, interpretations, and afterword are all quite profound.” –Rev. Chris Glaser, author of Coming Out as Sacrament 

“Fertile resources for reflection, meditation, study and prayer.”   –Susannah Cornwall, research fellow in religion, University of Exeter

“Provocative and powerful.” –Theodore Jennings, Chicago Theological Seminary professor

“Damage Control: A Memoir of Outlandish Privilege, Loss, And Redemption” by Sergei Boissier— Love, Delusion and Redemption

damage control

Boissier, Sergei. “Damage Control: A Memoir of Outlandish Privilege, Loss, And Redemption”, Argo-Navis, 2014.

Loss, Delusion and Redemption

Amos Lassen

When I first started reading “Damage Control”, it felt like I was reading another egoist going on about the wonderful sex he has been responsible for providing for others and a look at his many sexual escapades. All of us are familiar with stories of this kind that are usually the search for love by a guy who has an abusive mother. But I was surprised; as I read on I discovered that this was indeed a different kind of story and one that is very sincere and poignant. I have read so many books that eventually all seem to be the same so I was very surprised to find something new here. This a tale of loss and a coming-of-age story of excess and entitlement but it is also a look at delusion. The setting goes from pre-Castro Cuba to the lavish French countryside to the metropolitan streets of New York City. Quite basically it is the story of one guy and his family that contains all of the emotions (sometimes simultaneously) and it is very sensitive and moving.

The underlying motif is a mother and son finding each other after a separation of many years. It is also gay man’s journey through the joys and perils of his generation, coming out in the early eighties while the AIDS epidemic was devastating so many and his surviving tremendous loss culminating in his decision to adopt a child as a single parent.

Sergei was a psychotherapist who had been living in Paris when he learned his mother was terminally ill. He left his practice and his life to be by her side hoping to heal the bitterness and discord between them before it is too late. His mother had been a glamorous woman whose life was one of great elegance and luxury but also one of disillusionment, grandiosity, seduction and self-destruction. She spent her young years in pre-Castro Cuba which was then a mythical island paradise. When she was 18 she married a dashing young Swiss and they went into exile. She tried to create a mythical life of her own and pass on the traditions of aristocracy to her children yet all the while leading a double life and suffering feelings of intense longing and frustration and guilt. These eventually cause her to destroy it all and walk away from everything that she had been taught to want and expect out of life.

Reading this made me we are often glad that I did not live a life of privilege. we haven’t been granted such a privileged life. My heart broke and my eyes filled with tears several times during my read. Boissier bares his heart and soul and does so wonderfully. He introduces us to fascinating characters and then he tells is how he felt about those that were part of his life. He takes us through his cycle of life and it is so moving to read of his saying goodbye to a parent so he can say hello to a child as he finds grace and redemption through a mother’s love.

Boissier’s prose is sincere, elegant, unpretentious, and brave and this is not a book that you will be able to walk away from easily. It takes us into the entanglements and dysfunction of his own family and then shows us how and why he was able to deal with it all. We feel his pain, confusion, forgiveness as well as his love.




“Improper Bostonians” by The History Project— Looking at Gay Boston

improper bostonians

The History Project. “Improper Bostonians”, Beacon Press, 1998.

Looking at Gay Boston

Amos Lassen

We all remember that slogan “Banned in Boston” but let me tell you that Boston, in many cases, is a lot more liberal then she gets credit for. Gay people in Boston, Lillian Faderman tells us “were often responsible for the best that has been thought, said, and done in America.”

Perhaps that is one reason why this book is so engaging. It is who’s who of Boston’s best-known gay figures-from poet Amy Lowell to Sen. David Walsh but what really makes this book special and important it the way it integrates gay and lesbian culture into the city’s history as a whole. Of course everything did not come up roses for gay Bostonians and there is some sadness here but we do see that Boston was always a bit gay.

 Since the very beginning of America, Boston has played a vital role in the history of the United States as a center of society and intellectual ferment. This is why it’s not surprising that the city also has a deeply rooted gay and lesbian culture. “Improper Bostoniansis an wonderfully illustrated and seriously researched look at the role that homosexuals have played in constructing Boston society. We read the private homoerotic letters of John Winthrop (the first Governor of Massachusetts) to the 19th-century concept of the “Boston Marriage” (the widely-used term for two unmarried women living together as partners) to the open gay and lesbian life that existed in Boston’s notorious Scully Square in the 1920s and 1930s we see how gay men and lesbians were always present in the social, political, and intellectual life of the city.

While the text is extremely readable and interesting, the best part of the book is the engravings, paintings, news clippings, and photographs (many from personal collections) that illustrate the book’s themes. There are photographs of politicians, poets and performers and we are reminded that “gay and lesbian history is really not a separate category, but a single aspect of our collective history”, says noted historian Michael Bronski of Harvard.

The book was compiled by a nonprofit volunteer group of historians, archivists, and writers known as The History Project (that is still at work documenting gay Boston) What we have is a result of research begun in 1980 and first presented as an exhibit at the Boston Public Library in 1996. The history that we get here is at times informative, amusing, and heartbreaking and it gives us 300 years of gay and lesbian life in the U.S. city with their longest history. Research draws on newspapers, diaries, oral history, archives, and even advertising. Women and men are discussed equally. The accounts of life in 19th century and of Boston marriages and the bohemian group are wonderfully fascinating.

“Improper Bostonians” barely missed anything in terms of LGBT history. The compilers have done “a remarkable job salvaging ‘homophilica’ which homophobes should never have attempted to suppress. Sooner or later, all homophobes get caught out with their lies — and in this ‘Improper Bostonians’ is a triumph”.

There is also an extensive list of documentary notes and photo credits that will aid future researchers.

“Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician” by Allen Shawn— The Man and His Music


Shawn, Allen. “Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician”, (Jewish Lives), Yale University Press, 2014.

The Man and His Music

Amos Lassen

It has been said that Leonard Bernstein was one of a kind and to see just what that means one only has to read this wonderful new biography of the man who “stood at the epicenter of twentieth-century American musical life”. He was creative to the point that there was little he could not do musically. He was on the podium as a conductor, and he composed what he wanted to do. In this biography, the entire breadth of Bernstein’s musical composition is explored, through the spectacular range of intensely public role as an internationally celebrated conductor. There have been biographies of Bernstein before but this is the first to give a fully integrated analysis that offers a comprehensive appreciation of a musician of many talents and faces who continued to grow as an artist well into his final days.

The book like the man is intense, complex and personal. One would think that with a man like Bernstein who was larger than life that it is an impossible job to catch him with just words but Allen Shawn does just that. While author Shawn focuses mainly on Bernstein’s music, he plays down the man’s excesses even though he does write about the maestro’s family and personal life. It is Bernstein’s genius that Shawn concentrates on and we see that his accomplishments speak for themselves. We get wonderfully interesting facts about Bernstein and the fascination with the man continues.

“The Oldest Gay in the Village” by George Montague— Age Pride

the oldest gay in the village

Montague, George. “The Oldest Gay in the Village”, John Blake, 2014.

Age Pride

Amos Lassen

Contrary to what some of you might believe, this is not my autobiography. I am old but not the oldest in the village. Rather, this is the story of George Montague who was born in 1923. He is a man who has seen many changes in his lifetime but there are few “greater than the attitude towards being gay – attitudes that saw him criminalized (sic) for the sin of loving another man”.

Montague is a man who is committed to helping others accept gay people even if they do not understand anything about homosexuality. He says, “If I don’t understand why I am the way I am, why should anyone else? But why should it matter?” Nowadays Montague is in his nineties and he tells us that he is now finally beginning to see the acceptance of gay people, the very same acceptance that he yearned for what he was younger. He also adds that he is proud of being the oldest gay in the village.

He is a gay rights activist and an Ambassador for Brighton Pride. He has seen many changes in his lifetime, few greater than the attitudes towards and legalities of homosexuality. Here is his story and it is often humorous. This is the memoir of an indefatigable man. I love the following quote: “I was a tall, good-looking gay man who had resolved to marry an innocent (read virginal) woman, and I was spending my Saturday evenings in the company of a cast of outlaws who, like me, were risking everything for their desires”.

“Choose Your Own Autobiography” by Neil Patrick Harris— A New Kind of Memoir

choose your own autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris. “Choose Your Own Autobiography”, Crown, 2014.

A New Kind of Memoir

Amos Lassen

In his new book, Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. Unlike other memoirs and autobiographies, Harris allows us to camp it up as we read and it is great fun. You see what Neil Patrick Harris does is let you, the reader, live his life. You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp and then you make the decisions. At each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. For example, “You will decide whether to try out for “Doogie Howser, M.D” and you will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality.” Some of the choices are simple and some will take a lot of thought. For example you decide what kind of caviar to eat on Elton John’s yacht and if you choose the right answers you will what NPH has found—“fame, fortune, and true love.” However if you choose incorrectly and “you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas.” And that’s not the book has—there are magic tricks, recipes for cocktails, this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures as a child actor, and even a closing song. If he had written this three years ago, it would have never been published but the last few years have been good for him and he is, once again, one of America’s darlings.

If we look at the book on the whole, we see that this is indeed some kind of autobiography— his sense of style is here as are the big moments in his life. Harris is irreverent and very funny.

We are used to autobiographies that are written in the first person and this is not—it is written in the second person thereby having us exchange places with NPH. There are laughs all the way through as well as enjoying his charm and wit (not to mention his sexiness).

Some of you have watched Harris mature—from Doogie to Hedwig, from teen to adult, from child to gay icon. I missed those years because I was living in Europe when his star began to rise. We not only get to see his scrapbook of photos but we also get a look into his mind. He tells a lot about himself but in a way that makes it relatable. He ends his book with becoming a father and tells us how he and his husband, David decided to have kids, the process, and of course the birth and new life as a Dad. When I read that he is now 41 years old, I thought to myself that I am really old.

“Queer Beirut” by Sofian Merabet— Gender and Queer Identity in the Middle East

queer beirut

Merabet, Sofian. “Queer Beirut”, University of Texas Press, 2014.

Gender and Queer Identity in the Middle East

Amos Lassen

 “Queer Beirut” is an interesting and fascinating anthropological look at gender and queer identities in two fields—urban studies and Middle Eastern studies. The study of gay and lesbian identity is just beginning to surface and “Queer Beirut” is the first ethnographic study of queer lives in the Arab Middle East. Israel has been the focus of several books but the Muslim countries are just at the beginning of such research. The book by author Sofian Merabet uses anthropology, urban studies, gender studies, queer studies, and socio-cultural theory and what we get suggests a critical theory of gender and religious identity that will unquestionably challenge conventional anthropological premises about the role that society and certain urban spaces have in helping and allowing for the emergence of various subcultures within the city.

In order to write this, Merabet made a series of ethnographic journeys to Lebanon, during which he interviewed numerous gay men in Beirut from 1995 to 2014. It is through the life stories that he heard that made it able for him to present sensitive and moving ethnographic narratives that explore how Lebanese gays inhabit and perform their gender as they formulate their sense of identity. Further he examines the notion of “queer space” in Beirut and “the role that this city, its class and sectarian structure, its colonial history, and religion have played in these people’s discovery and exploration of their sexualities”. He uses Beirut as a microcosm for the complexities of homosexual relationships in contemporary Lebanon and the book gives us a critical standpoint from which to deepen understandings of gender rights and citizenship in the structuring of social inequality within the larger context of the Middle East.

The book immediately draws the reader in for two main reasons—it is well written and fascinating and the fact that it is truly the first of its kind. We read of happiness and violence and learn of Beirut’s (once regarded as the Paris of the Middle East) coming to life. The book looks essentially at the lives of gay males in Beirut and because it is the first of its kind, it demands readership.

Below is the table of contents:


List of Illustrations


Prologue. Itinerant Journeys


  1. Producing Queer Space in Beirut: Zones of Encounter in Post-Civil-War Lebanon
  2. Producing Prestige in and around Beirut: The Indiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and the Assertion of a Queer Presence
  3. Walking through the Concrete Jungle: The Queer Urban Stroller Traveling amid de Certeau, Benjamin, and Bourdieu
  4. Queer Performances and the Politics of Place: The Art of Drag and the Routine of Sectarianism
  5. The Homosexual Sphere between Spatial Appropriation and Contestation: Collective Activism and the Many Lives of Young Gay Men in Beirut
  6. The Queering of Closed and Open Spaces: Spatial Practices and the Dialectics of External and Internal Homophobia
  7. The Gay Gaze on the Corniche and the Politics of Memory: A Stroll on the Corniche and a Walk through Zoqāq al-Blāṭ
  8. “Seeing Oneself” and the Mirror Stage: The Ḥammām and the Gay Icon Fairuz
  9. Phenomenology and the Spatial Assertion of Queerness: Spatial Alienation, Anthropology, and Urban Studies
  10. Raising the Rainbow Flag between City and Country: Dancing, Protesting, and the Mimetics of Everyday Life

Conclusion. Struggling for Difference


Glossary of Transliterated Arabic Terms



“The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty” by Alexander Lee— The Sordid Truth about a Time of Beauty

the ugly renaissance

Lee, Alexander. “The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty”, Doubleday, 2014.

The Sordid Truth About a Time of Beauty

Amos Lassen

The Renaissance was renowned and famed as a period of cultural rebirth and artistic innovation, but it is also a time filled with as many sordid and ugly secrets as there was beauty and brilliance. When we hear the word “renaissance” we usually think of wonderful art and high ideals but behind it all was a “seamy, vicious world of power politics, perversity, and corruption that seems more like the present day than a period of high art.

Renaissance scholar, Alexander Lee, has researched period and with the publication of “The Ugly Renaissance” share his findings with us. He shows us the dark contradictions that were hidden within the wonderful art of the time. We read stories about “scheming bankers, greedy politicians, sex-crazed priests, bloody rivalries, vicious intolerance, rampant disease, and lives of extravagance and excess”. We realize that the art that was produced was no where near the high ideals and the work that emerged from the Renaissance and the artists that produced it were “flawed, tormented” people whose lives took place in a world of “inequality, dark sexuality, bigotry, and hatred”. This book shows us the debauchery and degradation that was the background or some of the greatest masterpieces of the world.

Reading this book makes us aware of the ”base tendencies and avariciousness that was beneath the splendor of the Renaissance. The focus here is on the live experiences of the artists, the desires and designs of their patrons and the politics of the time. While this is a serious study, it is fun to read about the excesses of the period.

 Author Lee has done fine research and his style of writing is easily readable while scholarly at the same time. His thesis is that art of the Renaissance can only be understood (and appreciated!) when we set it in its social context. Doing this we find that the most beautiful and glorious works of art then take on a different appearance. This is where deconstruction is necessary and he uses it to look at three different areas of artistic activity.

First, Lee looks at the social environment of the Renaissance artist and we see that there were artists who led somewhat unpleasant lives in the poorer, cramped parts of the city and used their conditions in their paintings. The second area is that of the patrons of art— those who paid for art to be made. The patrons were three specific groups—bankers, mercenaries and popes.

We see here how art was used to legitimatize the power, wealth, and authority of each of these groups (that were morally questionable), and Lee presents not only the propagandistic value of art, but also the contrast between image and reality. Then Lee looks at how Renaissance attitudes to the wider world can be found in the art of the period. This is where the surprises come. We learn that Mary’s earrings in Lorenzotti’s painting “The Presentation at the Temple” show the artist’s admiration and respect for the Biblical heritage shared by both Jews and Christina even while anti-Semitism existed throughout Renaissance society. In another painting we become aware of pseudo-Arabic script in another painting and this shows that artists found Islam to be both horrifying and fascinating. Regarding the discovery of what is now the Americas, Lee says that the New World did not influence Renaissance art at all and the artists seemed to have cared less about it.

Lee writes in a way that brings history to life as well as provides anecdotes that help to further illustrate the period. His character studies are also brilliant. The rivalry between Michelangelo and Pietro is explained as they compete against each other to be the best of the time. Then there was the Black Death that killed between 45% and 75%of those living in Italy during a three-year period. These facts alone could cause the title “The Ugly Renaissance” to fit and the paintings inspired by the Black Death

depicted events and demeanor of the people who lived during that time. I doubt many of us considered Ethiopians during this period but it is interesting to note that Italians considered them to be directed descended from Noah’s son Ham and while they were considered to be Christian, they became slaves. Then there is Michelangelo and the story of his lust and craving for another male.

It has never been a secret that the Renaissance was depraved—we saw with the Borgia pope who was one of the most evil in history. Books have written about murder and adultery during the period but here the author believes that modern admirers of the art and literature of the Renaissance tend to romanticize the era, seeing only the beautiful altarpieces and statues like Michelangelo’s David in isolation from the horrific society that produced them. His argument is that the modern world believes that people who paid for and produced art and poetry that was so beautiful could not have been bigots, murderers and rapists. Therefore his book is an attempt to tear down the sanitized picture of the Renaissance as a wonderful time of intellectual discovery and instead show us the steaminess of the period. Lee describes “how many of the altarpieces, with pictures of the art patrons painted into them, were given to churches to alleviate the guilt that the wealthy merchants, violent soldiers and corrupt church officials felt about their sin-stained lives. Huge libraries were built by merchants fearing that they would spend eternity in purgatory or hell for ruthless acts of usury”.

 The Renaissance was driven by vice of every description. Florence was “the loom on which the fabric of the Renaissance was woven” but it was also the home of much seedy activity. “Florence was a teeming mass of humanity, the wealthy, the poor and indigent, whores and merchants selling their wares at the top of their voices, parades of often hypocritical sex-crazed ecclesiastics, shrieking children, everybody trying to elude the mounds of human waste dumped in the ill-paved streets, rubbed cheek by jowl. Pickpockets did a lively trade, murders were endemic, the smells horrendous. Michelangelo’s magnificent David at the Piazza della Signoria looked down upon a city of sinners, a city of vice and corruption. With David Michelangelo’s genius was fully recognized. However, like all artists of the period he was dependent upon patrons for his livelihood”.

Disease was everywhere and we learn that Michelangelo who lived to the age of 88 suffered from health issues his entire life. There was no privacy whatever and citizens became thoroughly jaundiced by sex, leaving no room for romance but nevertheless they fornicated as vigorously as ever. It was said no woman in Florence remained a virgin after the age of twenty and both men and women were serial adulterers.

At the time of the Renaissance, Italy was made up of some thirty independent states such as Florence and Milan, each with its own government, laws and mercenaries- and vices. Rome, incredibly, was a backwater until a series of churchmen and several popes determined to make it Christianity’s crown jewel not really as a glorification of Christ but a glorification of themselves. Somehow Jesus the son of a carpenter, was lost. The Sistine Chapel (named after Sixtus IV), the Borgia Apartments and even Saint Peter’s Basilica were monuments not to Christianity but symbols of wealth annexed to the families of Popes and cardinals. The great beauties of the Renaissance were obtained at a price. Artists had to have patrons and the patrons had to have power. Politicians as they were, churchmen schemed, and eliminated those who stood in their way.

The book is as lascivious as many current affairs, but describes people, places and art that will continue to live on much longer and it is from a background like this that great art was created.