This ended up being just okay for me. It's certainly well-researched, careful, sober and authoritative, so that's nice. But I have two issues, both of which are sorta bigger than just this book:
1) I only read this one book about Michelangelo, which means it's hard for me to know whether Wallace's take is entirely the right one. I have no dissenting opinion, you know? In this case, my uncertainty is about Michelangelo's homosexuality. From what I've heard (including from Michelangelo himself, in the form of his wicked gay sonnets), he was pretty gay - like, somewhere between my friend Rob, who's happily married to a dude but other than that I could swear he's straight, and my friend Jeffrey, who's a slut of epic proportions. Wallace underplays and/or "excuses" this aspect of his life, though, using the hoary old "Times were different back then! Everybody wrote love letters to dudes!" and quoting mostly from his tamer poetry. I believe he's straightifying Michelangelo a bit, which I disapprove of.
(But this is a difficulty about history. We go through phases where we redefine it based on what our current society wants it to be. Lots of people would love to have Michelangelo as a gay icon. Are those people overstating their case, or is Wallace understating it? If Wallace had confronted the issue of Michelangelo's sexuality straight on, as I think he should have, I might have a better guess at the answer. Instead he tiptoes delicately around it, doing no one any favors.)
2) We build our myths based in part around what the most fun picture of a guy might be. It's fun to believe that Richard Gere stuffs hamsters in his butt, so why shouldn't I believe it? Similarly, it's fun to picture Michelangelo as this irascible, stinky old crank living in his own squalor and crazily hammering at musty old blocks of granite. But then a sober researcher like Wallace comes along and says, listen, if you just read the guy's letters, you find out he's pretty normal. Sure, a little fussy, but he bathed as much as anyone else, cracked jokes with a nice circle of friends, cared deeply about his family, and was perfectly capable of diplomacy. Okay, I believe him. But wasn't it more fun the other way?
I had the same problem when I was learning about the Dark Ages. It turns out it wasn't a wretched time of plague, burnings and constant Viking raids - at least, not completely, and not much more than the times before or after it. There was still trade, commerce, government, family...when the Roman empire collapsed, the only difference in most peoples' lives was that there were fewer Romans traipsing around demanding taxes. But that's no fun! Where's my schadenfreude?
Often it turns out that history was much cooler and/or weirder than I've been led to believe. The advanced and expansive pre-Columbian American societies are a good example of this. But sometimes it goes the other way: sometimes history turns out to be more mundane than I've imagined. I'm not complaining - well, I am, obviously, but I'm not going to stop reading. But seriously, Wallace, you're harshing my buzz.