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A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind…

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

by William Manchester

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2,449493,628 (3.6)1 / 67



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Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
The subtitle of this book, The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, focuses attention on a point that often strikes my when I read tales of human history. People of the past weren't like us. They didn't think how we think. They didn't see themselves or the universe around them as we do. They seemed to lack humanity. Frankly, they seem nuts. In many ways their world was one that was ruled, if not predominately populated by, psychopaths. Between blood lust, selfish ambition, and religious fervor (often in deadly combination), I sometimes wonder how our species survived. In this book, the author focuses on a few historical events that helped change our medieval minds into ones that I like to think are a bit more human. ( )
  DLMorrese | Aug 23, 2017 |
This book may be a fun read, but it is very outdated and inaccurate history. Universities with low academic standards will love this one. All historical research done in the last 100 years is ignored. The factual flaws in the first chapter alone were enough to make me check to see if it was fiction.

This book should be used as the BAD example when contrasting nonfiction books. I could not finish as it is an insult to real history. Point me to the nearest bonfire, please! ( )
1 vote ikeman100 | May 11, 2017 |
This book covers a vast territory, the medieval world, the renaissance, the reformation, the age of exploration, too broad perhaps, but still enjoyable as all William Manchester books are. I particularly enjoyed his tale of Magellan's voyage. ( )
  gbelik | Jan 30, 2017 |
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...


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 | Oct 17, 2016 |
I look forward to listening to this audiobook again in the future. Manchester was a good story teller, but one that may be closer to historical fiction at times. ( )
  MichaelC.Oliveira | Oct 7, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
"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."
added by Taphophile13 | editSpeculum, Jeremy DuQuesnay Adams (pay site) (Jan 1, 1995)
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Eine Kugel kam geflogen: Gilt es mire oder gilt es dir? Ihn hat es weggerissen; Er liegt mir vor den Fussen Als wars ein Stuck von mir.
To Tim Joyner - Athlete - Comrade - Scholar - Friend
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The densest of the medieval centuries—the six hundred years between, roughly, A.D. 400 and A.D. 1000—are still widely known as the Dark Ages.
Heroism is always deliberate, never mindless. (Page 287)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
"A World Lit Only by Fire" (1992) became a New York Times bestseller and was praised for its lively storytelling in some journalistic reviews. Ron Grossman of the Chicago Tribune, for instance, wrote that “by taking readers along on Magellan`s voyage, Manchester provides them with easy access to a fascinating age when our modern mentality was just being born.”

Professional historians, however, have dismissed or ignored the book because of its numerous factual errors and its dependence on interpretations that have not been accepted by experts since the 1930s at the latest. In a review for Speculum, the journal of the Medieval Academy of America, Jeremy duQuesnay Adams remarked that Manchester’s work contained “some of the most gratuitous errors of fact and eccentricities of judgment this reviewer has read (or heard) in quite some time.” In particular, Adams pointed out that Manchester’s claims about diet, clothing, and medieval people’s views of time and their sense of self, all ran counter to the conclusions of 20th-century historians of the Middle Ages. Manchester’s views on the transition from medieval to modern civilization, though they were popular in the 19th and early 20th century (and still are current in some segments of contemporary culture), have long been rejected by professional scholars in the relevant fields. 

Haiku summary
Intriguing title.
The rest is tabloid fodder;
unsupported tripe.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316545562, Paperback)

It speaks to the failure of medieval Europe, writes popular historian William Manchester, that "in the year 1500, after a thousand years of neglect, the roads built by the Romans were still the best on the continent." European powers were so absorbed in destroying each other and in suppressing peasant revolts and religious reform that they never quite got around to realizing the possibilities of contemporary innovations in public health, civil engineering, and other peaceful pursuits. Instead, they waged war in faraway lands, created and lost fortunes, and squandered millions of lives. For all the wastefulness of medieval societies, however, Manchester notes, the era created the foundation for the extraordinary creative explosion of the Renaissance. Drawing on a cast of characters numbering in the hundreds, Manchester does a solid job of reconstructing the medieval world, although some scholars may disagree with his interpretations.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:37 -0400)

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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 dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as some of its most spectacular villans--the Renaissance"--Cover, p. 4.… (more)

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