Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes.
The TV series this week is: The Borgias.
Conspiring with his ruthless sons Cesare and Juan and poisonously seductive daughter Lucrezia, the charismatic Rodrigo Borgia will let nothing and no one stand in the way of his relentless quest for wealth and power. Mercilessly cruel and defiantly decadent, intimidation and murder are his weapons of choice in his scandalous ascension to the papacy in Renaissance-era Italy.
To me, the Borgia family is endlessly fascinating. Although there are so many rumours about them – it is often said that Cesare and Lucrezia had an incestuous relationship, that Lucrezia was skilled with poisons, etc – in reality none of this is actually known for sure. It could be that one of the most infamous families in Italian history were nothing like they seem. Despite this, it’s fascinating to read about them and try and put the pieces together, plus Renaissance history is a beautiful period to study.
Are you looking for fiction?
Jean Plaidy has written a two-book series on Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI. The volumes are entitled Madonna of the Seven Hills and Light of Lucrezia – if you’re a fan of historical fiction then you’ve probably heard of Jean Plaidy before. I’ve read some of her books, and she writes brilliantly. Or perhaps if you’re after some more recent fiction (Plaidy’s series was first published in 1958), you could try out Sara Poole’s Poisoner Mysteries. It is about a young woman who becomes the official ‘poisoner’ of Pope Alexander VI, and also the lover of Cesare Borgia. Obviously this one is a much more fictionalised account! And then finally, the author of The Godfather has also written a novel about the Borgias – The Family by Mario Puzo. If it’s anything like The Godfather, then he will have captured the poisonous and scheming image of them perfectly.
Or perhaps non-fiction?
Machiavelli’s The Prince is like an instruction manual on how to run a country or kingdom, and was in fact inspired in part by Cesare Borgia. Niccolo Machiavelli actually makes an appearance in the TV series. Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias is a wonderful historical account for those who are interested in reading about the family, but don’t want to go into too much detail or read about lots of background information – unlike G.J. Meyer’s The Borgias: A Hidden History, which has an incredibly thorough history of the family, even pre-Alexander VI. I would definitely advise reading this one in chunks, not the whole thing at once as I attempted to do…