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A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age (1992)

de William Manchester

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3,292684,015 (3.59)1 / 77
From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages. In handsomely crafted prose and with the grace and authority of his extraordinary gift for narrative history, William Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its rebirth, the Renaissance, a dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, and painters, as well as some of its most spectacular villains.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 69 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
A lot of great material but not well organized making for a book that was hard to read. The beginning was particularly poor. The middle was almost good but hard to follow. The last chapter was the best. Alas, everyone else in my book club gave up well before then.

The author provided some maps - helpful - but a timeline would've been useful, particularly for the middle chapter during which he was constantly bouncing around the middle ages (and even in to the renaissance) continually. Did he really think I had the entire history of the popes memorized?

I would recommend this only to the most interested in history. ( )
  donwon | Jan 22, 2024 |
Great book written about the renaissance period. Manchester really tells the story well. ( )
  CMDoherty | Oct 3, 2023 |
This was an engagingly written book, and a very fast read. However, it suffered from a number of issues.

For one, it was too fast, and seemed to hop-scotch around; for instance, the last chapter on Magellan seems to just be tacked on. It seems that half of the the book before the Magellan chapter is bracket with "Durant says, "; Manchester obviously relied very heavily on this one source.

Then, there are logical "errors." I put "errors" in quotes because I am not an expert in Medieval history or the lives of the various figures, but there are a number of places where Manchester will, over the course of a few sentences or a paragraph, say something like, "Commonly, A is labeled as B; but this is not true because C ... Now, certainly A was B, and so..." This may be his writing style, but I found it distracting and it has left me wondering about the veracity of what I read. Consulting Wikipedia, I see that in fact the book did spark controversy for its supposed errors and invalid conclusions, and that it was out of date. Going back to what I noticed, the book was published in 1992 but references very heavily books written between the 1930's and the 1960's (the Durants' series), which presumably itself was based on research from decades earlier...

Sigh.

Reading this very well may have been a waste of time. Check out From "Dawn to Decadence" or "The Civilization of the Middle Ages" The are both longer, but also both very good reads; and I trust them more. ( )
  dcunning11235 | Aug 12, 2023 |
This is a book by a non-specialist, non-historian written for a wide audience. He states this in his "Author's Note." His depiction of the middle ages, the medieval era of the title, the "Dark Ages" he calls it, is VERY MUCH disputed by historians of the time period. He repeats corny old chestnuts and hoary views in the first part of the book. The bulk of the book, however, is a narrative and scattershot history of the European Renaissance. This is the bulk of the book but only a small part of the subtitle. It is decent for those who may not know much about it, and entertaining too. (Just reading about the Borgias is worth it for many!) But, again, historians of the era will balk at some of his conclusions and facts. The last section is a recapitulation of Magellan's voyage. It—again—uses old sources and tells the story in an old way. Unlike Felipe Fernández-Armesto's new biography of Magellan, Manchester thinks Magellan was a courageous, brave hero in the old mode of Great Man History. And that Magellan's voyage was mind-boggling and mind-altering for the "medieval mind." It probably wasn't that paradigm altering. Still, you can profit from this book. Especially for those who want to read a little history of the Renaissance and don't know much about it. It won't hurt anything.

The original version from 1992 (ISBN 0316545317) is illustrated well with some maps. In 2014, Sterling released an illustrated edition (ISBN 9781454908944) with more images and color pictures. Worth finding the latter if you can cheaply, but not essential. ( )
  tuckerresearch | Jan 4, 2023 |
This is a book by a non-specialist, non-historian written for a wide audience. He states this in his "Author's Note." His depiction of the middle ages, the medieval era of the title, the "Dark Ages" he calls it, is VERY MUCH disputed by historians of the time period. He repeats corny old chestnuts and hoary views in the first part of the book. The bulk of the book, however, is a narrative and scattershot history of the European Renaissance. This is the bulk of the book but only a small part of the subtitle. It is decent for those who may not know much about it, and entertaining too. (Just reading about the Borgias is worth it for many!) But, again, historians of the era will balk at some of his conclusions and facts. The last section is a recapitulation of Magellan's voyage. It—again—uses old sources and tells the story in an old way. Unlike Felipe Fernández-Armesto's new biography of Magellan, Manchester thinks Magellan was a courageous, brave hero in the old mode of Great Man History. And that Magellan's voyage was mind-boggling and mind-altering for the "medieval mind." It probably wasn't that paradigm altering. Still, you can profit from this book. Especially for those who want to read a little history of the Renaissance and don't know much about it. It won't hurt anything.

The original version from 1992 (ISBN 0316545317) is illustrated well with some maps. In 2014, Sterling released an illustrated edition (ISBN 9781454908944) with more images and color pictures. Worth finding the latter if you can cheaply, but not essential. ( )
  tuckerresearch | Jan 4, 2023 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 69 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
"This is an infuriating book. The present reviewer hoped that it would simply fade away, as its intellectual qualities (too strong a word) deserved.... Manchester makes it clear in the early pages of this Portrait that he had never thought much about the Middle Ages.... Fair enough... But when this mind-set unfolds itself through some of the most gratuitous errors of fact and eccentricities of judgment this reviewer has read (or heard) in quite some time, one must protest."
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From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages. In handsomely crafted prose and with the grace and authority of his extraordinary gift for narrative history, William Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its rebirth, the Renaissance, a dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, and painters, as well as some of its most spectacular villains.

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