AN Wilson in The Spectator:
Unlike Shakespeare, who kept himself out of all his works, except the Sonnets, Dante was endlessly reworking his autobiography, even when supposedly writing on politics or arranging love poems to his dream-women. The core of this new book about him can be found in a sentence following Dante’s banishment from Florence, and his setting out as a poverty-stricken exile, deprived of all power, separated from his wife and family and stripped of his wealth. Marco Santagata writes:
One of the typical features of Dante’s personality, which qualifies him as an ‘intellectual’ in the modern sense of the word, is his endless reflection on what he is doing, both as an author and as a man.
Santagata is Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Pisa, and this substantial work incorporates all the most recent Dantean scholarship. There is much to chew upon, since Dante lived at the very centre of his city’s political life. After his exile he became embroiled in the drama of the French Pope (Clement V, Bertrand de Got), and in November 1308 endorsed the candidature of Henry of Luxembourg as Holy Roman Emperor. Santagata, thoroughly steeped in the politics and genealogies of the period, gives the best account I have ever read of Dante in his historical context. We follow him as an enthusiastic Guelph, in the battle of Campaldino in 1289 against the Ghibellines of Arezzo, and on through his political and religious journey as a would-be politician. He falls foul of the bitter feuding between the ‘White’ Guelphs and the ‘Blacks’ — chief of whom in Florence was Dante’s wife’s terrifying and thuggish relation Corso Donati.