Jacob Burkhardt wrote that Florence is "alone and above all other states in the world, the home of history."
I think one of the reasons there are so few great novels about people and life in Florence is because the reality is so dramatic, who needs fiction?
Five recent books top my list of things to read about this incredible town:
Miles Unger's "Magnifico" and his "Machiavelli" are two superb portraits of Florence and its dominant figures (not just the two named) at its height, in the mid-late 15th century, and after its collapse starting with the invasion by the French in 1494. Nowhere have I read a better account than the one in "Magnifico" of how all Europe revolved around Florence and the Medici, before the fall in 1494.
Lauro Martines - a radical hater of the Medici - has written a super account of the turning point in the history of Renaissance Florence - the Pazzi Conspiracy - in his riveting account, "April Blood". And his biography of Savonarola, "Fire in the City" gives a fascinating account of how Medici Florence fell and how the Reformation almost got started in Florence, rather than in Wittenberg.
Frances Stoner Saunders' "Hawkwood" is one of the best-written books I have ever read on any subject - a riveting account of the almost total destruction of civilization in 14th century Italy - thanks to a mini-ice age, the plagues, religious upheaval largely caused by Saint Catharine of Siena, and, perhaps above all, by the marauding bands of largely English cut-throats led by John Hawkwood, the "condotierre", whose bizarre, skeletal portrait by Uccello graces the north wall of the Duomo.
These books are so vivid, such wonderful windows on Medieval and Renaissance Florence, so full of storm and stress, romance, dramatic ups and downs, who needs "Downton Abbey" or any other such make-believe?