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May 12, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE CITY OF FLORENCE: Historical Vistas and Personal Sightings by R.W.B. Lewis (Henry Holt: $14.95; 351 pp., illustrated). In this warmly personal history, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Edith Wharton discusses how the popular image of Florence was created, developed and preserved over the centuries. Lewis juxtaposes personal anecdotes with literary descriptions and does a neat job of tracing the turbulent history of Renaissance Florence, which essentially ended in 1434, when Cosimo de Medici took control of the Italian city. Lewis brings the historic palazzi and piazze alive with centuries-old gossip about famous and infamous inhabitants. A delightful introduction to one of the centers of Western civilization, "Florence" would make an excellent gift for anyone planning an Italian vacation.

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