It is difficult to imagine anyone seriously interested in Dante who will not want to own this book, because it weighs all the sources, checking Boccaccio and other early writers against the archives and the documents. It traces who Dante’s family were ... Barbero is a solid, reliable guide to the complex story of internecine Tuscan rivalries ... A general reader who starts to wonder about the difference between the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs, and the mafia-style warfare in Florence between the separate factions, will definitely need some help, and this is patiently, coolly and wisely given here ... So frequent are the references to actual people and actual events in his life that we need an accurate historian to escort us through the maze of what is fact and what is fiction. Barbero’s book, then, will be essential reading for anyone wanting to know the bare bones of Dante’s earthly pilgrimage. On these biographical details, Barbero is your man ... How reliable is Dante’s version of the actual historical circumstances in which he lived, the families and feuds of Florence, the rivalries of French kings, popes, and Holy Roman emperors? That is the moment when you reach for Barbero, and you will not find a better guide.
... translated fluidly ... [Barbero's] reasoning is cogent, his research impressive and his answers set in earnest dialogue with the historical record. I don’t always agree, but can find no fault with his methods ... Barbero is equally precise and ordered in tracing the chronology of Dante’s life and back story, as he follows it from the times of the poet’s ancestors all the way to his death as a celebrated literary exile in Ravenna. The book is written in the spirit of another richly detailed biography, Marco Santagata’s Dante: The Story of His Life (2016), though with not as much depth as Santagata’s more scholarly work. Barbero is surprisingly light on sustained reflections on Dante’s writings, bringing in The Divine Comedy only to illustrate or gloss the various biographical issues or themes he develops. Ultimately, he seeks to avoid falling prey to the kind of Dante mania that seduced a biographer even as brilliant as Boccaccio into rhapsodic — and often entirely invented — musings on Dante ... Barbero’s otherwise impeccably written and researched book misses two key opportunities that would have made his work translate better for readers in the Anglophone world ... Unfortunately, there are few other vivid set pieces in the book, as it focuses on the lingering questions surrounding the poet’s life, exploring these in the form of hypotheses and deductions rather than stories. An award-winning novelist, Barbero clearly has the chops to convert these Dante conundrums into storytelling that would have pulled the reader in more forcefully ... We can be grateful to Barbero for this richly informative biography of a man who can seem so reticent and aloof that at times it feels as if he’s hiding behind the 14,233 verses of The Divine Comedy rather than revealing himself. But for those who are looking to learn more about the Dante in us, a biography has to do more than deliver the plausible facts. And so the quest for a vita of Dante in English will likely lead us right back to where Emerson suggested: the poetry from Dante’s own hand.
The miracle is that a text separated from us by seven centuries can sing in harmony with our time. For this reason, those of us who love Dante’s work are drawn to biography to ask how; what did he learn, and from whom? How did this man, neither the noblest nor the wealthiest of Florentines, come to write as he did? Barbero does not answer these questions, but he does richly contextualize the life of a middle-class man of letters in medieval Italy ... As Barbero distances himself from existing scholarship, so too does his translator. Cameron has translated passages from the Comedy seemingly without recourse to previous translations. This leads to some odd moments.