The first book I read, before we left for Florence, was Ross King's Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. It was an easy and entertaining read, and really got me in the mood to climb to the top of the dome. We made our first aborted attempt yesterday - my nearly five year old daughter got cold feet right as I was about to pay the fee, so we were let into the church to exit instead (after standing in line for about 45 minutes!). You can read this book in a couple of days (167 pages), it is full of interesting anecdotes, and while it does describe the technical aspects of the building of the dome it is never dry. I enjoyed it enough that I will probably read it again.
Currently I (or we) am reading (mostly out loud to put the kids to sleep) Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo. Although it takes place during the duration of Michelangelo's life and there is a lot of time spent in Rome, nearly the whole first half of the book is centered in and around Florence, where Michelangelo was born, raised and first apprenticed. While the characters conversations can be a little corny and dated, and even though some of the invented scenes seems silly (especially Michelangelo's brief affair with a woman in Bologna), it still is an amazingly researched and thorough book that alllows you to pick up a lot of history of the Renaissance as you follow Michelangelo's life. I am really interested in Savonarola from a historical standpoint and I was not expecting to learn so much about him from this book, which was a pleasant surprise. We are just about half way through this 758 page tome - it was really neat to show the kids Michelangelo's sculpture of Bacchus today in the Bargello after just reading about it. I am looking forward to the rest.