A sketch of the north Italian city of Mantua during the Renaissance by a superb author of travel books. Though small, Mantua played a crucial role in the tortuously complicated Renaissance politics. Focus is on the calculating Gonzaga family whose political astuteness, tangled network of marriage alliances, etc., kept it in power from 1329 to 1629. Simon interweaves condottiere, humanists, artists, and musicians, giving capsule biographies of famous figures. Despite some omissions in coverage, the text is splendid: Simon has an ear attuned to the apposite quote, an especially critical eye for the works of art that made the court of Mantua internationally famous. General readers and travelers will enjoy this book. Bennett D. Hill, St. Anselm's Abbey, Washington, D.C.