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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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2,048393,255 (3.61)1 / 56



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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
It is useful as a compendium of every stereotype you can think of about the Middle Ages, most of them wrong ( )
1 vote auldtwa1 | Mar 14, 2014 |
A great narrative of the 16th century in Europe ( )
  deblemrc | Mar 1, 2014 |
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I see that in fact the book did spark controversy for its supposed errors and invalid conclusions, and that it was out of date.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 | Jan 20, 2014 |
Mr. Manchester is a very good writer, able to paint vivid pictures for his readers. So, I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, but when I stopped and reflected, I was left with three observations:

1. The author lacked focus. I'm not sure why he singled Magellan out of all of the Renaissance figures. He claims Magellan was essential to the comprehension of the times -- but surely others were as well?

2. I'm not sure I can take much of the book as truth. The book lacks sources, footnotes, etc. And it seems that he favours any story that has provocative explanations over other theories that aren't as salacious.

3. He didn't seem sympathetic to his subject (other than Magellan), painting people of the era as homogenous, largely thoughtless beings. ( )
  LynnB | Nov 5, 2013 |
This book starts off with a synopsis of life during the dark/middle ages. For nearly 1000 years, it was remarkably unchanged -- the church rule was absolute, and free thought was unheard of. Feudalism existed because the peasants knew no better than acceptance. Divine Right covered the fate of kings and helped strengthened the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on the world. Such absolute power, naturally, corrupts, and the church became corrupt beyond imagination. Nunneries were brothels., popes left litters of bastard children. Indulgences were sold as a way to raise funds so the cardinals and pope could keep living large.

The first few to challenge this long-held status quo, like the Czech Jan Hus were typically met with death sentences. Martin Luther turned things around with defiance backed by the German people, while he became a fugitive, he continued to foment revolution. The Renaissance followed, as well as the Reformation.

A World Lit Only By Fire tells the stories of some of the key figures who helped bring light and sanity back to the world. Thomas More, Henry XVIII, Erasmus, Calvin, Luther, Copernicus, and Magellan are all profiled in brief or extensively (nearly a quarter of the book follows Magellan's career to his death in the Philippines -- nearly a book within a book).

My only complaint is a little lack of focus. I think I would rather have learned more about every day life, and highlights of the dramitis personae as time marched on. The book began this way, then dug in deep with Luther and Magellan in particular. This had a rather uneven effect, but the stories told were told well and it was an interesting telling of the age. ( )
  JeffV | Sep 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:57 -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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