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

by William Manchester

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2,090423,163 (3.6)1 / 59

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36. A World Lit Only By Fire : The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Portrait of an Age (Audio) by William Manchester, read by Barrett Whitener and Carrington MacDuffie (1992, 11:36, ~320 pages in paperback, listened Mar 30-April 9, June 7-8)
Rating: 2 stars

Manchester tells us the the early 16th century is not his specialty, that he had written up a short book on Magellan's voyage, then he wanted to put that in a background context of the times. It would have been nice if he had told us that up front instead of in the afterword.

What comes out has little to do with the title or subtitle. While it jumps around in time quite a bit, thereby actually touching most to the Middle Ages time period, it spends most of its time in the early 16th century. Over and over he reminds us how corrupt the Papacy was, then jumps to lengthy sections on Cesare & Lucretia Borgia, Martin Luther, finally Magellan's voyage. The reader is left wondering what context this should be read in and how it all ties together...until the afterword.

Perhaps Manchester's books on Churchill* are lightning, but this one is nothing special.

*He is the author of The Last Lion, a two volume biography of Winston Churchill. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Jul 3, 2015 |
Only got a short way into this book. The bias, inaccuracies and narrow focus put me off. I gather from other reviews that it is not well regarded by many historians.
  ritaer | Mar 11, 2015 |
I had wanted to read this book for years. It's about the Middle Ages! And with such a beautiful title! Had heard reviews saying there are factual errors, but with a time so long gone and so little recorded (I mean, it is called the Dark Ages, after all), you'd have to expect some disagreement. In exchange for a good overview of the era, I'd call it worthwhile.

I gave up on page 12-13: "In an attempt to link Easter with the Passion, it was scheduled on Passover... The decision had no historical validity, but neither did the event..." I've never heard any definition of Easter that did not include the Passion of Christ (nor does Manchester elaborate on this hypothetical event), and since all four gospels say this coincided with Passover, the scheduling seems much more slam-dunk than scheming.

Also, page 11 "The crafty but benevolent pagan gods - whose caprice and intransigence existed only in the imagination of Christian theologians". How did Manchester read Homer without seeing gods behaving capriciously and intransigently?

More importantly, how could someone so totally ignorant of either the ancient traditions that preceded it, or the modern Christian tradition which succeeded it, ever hope to write a book about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that came between, especially without taking a very scholarly approach to it? ( )
2 vote Heduanna | Feb 15, 2015 |
It is useful as a compendium of every stereotype you can think of about the Middle Ages, most of them wrong ( )
2 vote auldtwa1 | Mar 14, 2014 |
A great narrative of the 16th century in Europe ( )
  deblemrc | Mar 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (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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Epigraph
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.
Dedication
To Tim Joyner - Athlete - Comrade - Scholar - Friend
First words
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.
Quotations
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. 

Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_World_...
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)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"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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