By Karyn L. Barr
Updated October 29, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Myth perpetuates Lucrezia Borgia, 16th-century Duchess of Ferrara, as a vile, scheming floozy with a penchant for political assassination, adultery, and incest. But according to Bradford’s pedantic account, the illegitimate daughter of nefarious Pope Alexander VI was more human — and perhaps more boring — than centuries-old legend would lead you to believe. Using historical documents, including firsthand accounts, Sarah Bradford paints the duchess in Lucrezia Borgia as a fiercely passionate, astute woman with a talent for using her independence, reputation, and sexual prowess to help mend politically fractured Renaissance Italy. Too often, though, the dense, detailed-laden biography buckles under its own weight — do we really need to know how many times she had sex in a night? Some things are better left unsaid.