Datini, a fourteenth-century Florentine merchant-banker, provides us with one of the great success stories of the Middle Ages. A dealer in wool, sacred pictures, spices, and iron, he established an import/export house with branches in Pisa, Genoa, Barcelona, and Majorca. He also left behind, in wooden crates, the entire archive of his business—over 150,000 letters, some 500 ledgers and accounts books, and a mass of personal and business documents that Iris Origo tracked down, translated, and, through patient selection and perfect understanding, made accessible to the modern reader in this award-winning and singular biography.
In her fine introduction, Barbara Tuchman asks, “Why is this book one of the great books of historical writing of the twentieth century?” She answers, “[Origo’s] success in resurrecting not only a personality whom we can recognize but also his times, his town, his marriage, his household, his country home, his friends and associates, makes for a work of extraordinary interest with that quality to grip and take hold of a reader that makes a book everlasting.” And as for Datini himself, the epicenter of this remarkable historical recreation, she writes, “the story of his achievement is something more significant than the mere record of the enrichment of a single man. In the extent and variety of his ventures, in his powers of organization, in his international outlook, in his swift adaptability to a society in turmoil, as in his own ambition, shrewdness, tenacity, anxiety, and greed, he is the forerunner of the businessman of today.”