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Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World (Hinges of History) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 29, 2013

123 customer reviews
Book 6 of 6 in the Hinges of History Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

From Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (2003) to his recent book on the flowering of the High Middle Ages, Cahill has proven that he can bring even the most obscure epochs back to life. In this sixth of seven projected volumes in his Hinges of History series, Cahill arrives at his most turbulent era yet: the Reformation and Renaissance. Replete with a larger-than-life cast of explorers, innovators, imperialists, and reformers, the era seems built for Cahill’s masterful storytelling. Although it is rigorously researched, the book abounds in the serendipities that make for the best fiction: Columbus discovers the New World by accident and Gutenberg modifies a winepress to print books. Even the tragic fall of Constantinople and the horrors of the bubonic plague yield unexpected opportunities. The text is delightfully sprinkled with clever notes and asides as well as dozens of illustrative images and poems. Heretics and Heroes is proof that truth is stranger than fiction—and that it can be just as entertaining. --Brett Beasley


"It's hard to imagine a more palpable or engaging history of venal popes and the horrific torture and burning of heretics in the 1500s than Thomas Cahill’s Heretics and Heroes, the sixth in his Hinges of History Series. Cahill is our king of popular historians, and rightly so. He is eminently learned and wise, fluent in several languages, and opinionated and unsparing in his view of history. . . . In a little over 300 pages, Cahill encapsulates several dozen major artistic, political and ecclesiastical figures across a spread of several centuries. He touches on so many subjects, is so knowledgeable on everything he touches on, is so pithy and sharp, it doesn’t matter if you know a little, a lot or nothing at all about Renaissance art or Northern Europe’s rocky break from Catholic Rome. Cahill, you feel, would be the ideal dinner or driving companion. In spirit and in narrative strategy, he’s the modern equivalent of popular journalist-historians like John Hersey, Jim Bishop and Walter Lord, who brought factual insight into events blanketed by popular myth." The Dallas Morning News

"Cahill is a felicitous writer. . . . [H]is erudition is impressive and engaging. No reader will doubt his enthusiasm for or knowledge of great Renaissance masters such as Donatello, Masaccio and Botticelli, as well as the freakishly talented Leonardo and that ruffian Caravaggio. Almost as important, Heretics and Heroes is illustrated in a lavish and handsome fashion. Anyone looking for a refresher on Renaissance art . . . or on Reformation conflicts and the subsequent wars of religion could do far worse than to pick up this breezy but reliable guide." The Washington Post

"The writing is crisp, conversational, and matched by very few non-fiction writers out there today. The great achievement of Heretics and Heroes is Cahill's seemingly effortless illumination of the Renaissance and the Reformation. I have learned a lot from what Cahill has done here." —James S. Shapiro, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, and author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

"Cahill cheerfully explains the enduring value of the Renaissance and Reformation movements to 21st century Western principles, injecting humor and a conversational style into well-written and easily accessible chapters centering on controversial issues and mesmerizing personalities. . . . Well-chosen illustrations and discreetly placed asides clarify his arguments. . . . Cahill writes passionately about the era’s transformational art, the unexpected benefits of the Black Plague, and the intellectual struggles over secular and papal power, resulting in an entertaining yet thought-provoking examination of Western civilization." Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Cahill sets his delightfully analytic mind to the major transformations prompted by the Renaissance and Reformation . . . [he] makes it seem so simple to connect the dots, as the 14th through 16th centuries witnessed changes to every facet and walk of life--from the expulsion of the Moors in Spain to the emergence of nations and massive religious upheaval. The breadth of Cahill's knowledge and his jocular style of writing make for a remarkable book."Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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Product Details

  • Series: Hinges of History (Book 6)
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; F First Edition edition (October 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495578
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, is the bestselling author of the Hinges of History series.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By LucyBell2 on November 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
First please let me say that this book is a beautiful physical object. The jacket and end papers are simply gorgeous. As is the design of the book--it is generously illustrated with full color art plates to help the reader better understand the periods that Mr. Cahill is writing about.

Now on to the content. Mr. Cahill writes so engagingly about the distant past. That's why I eagerly await his books, even if I think I might not normally be interested in the topic. Take this book. If you asked me before reading it if I would enjoy learning about Martin Luther and the Reformation I'd say "probably not." But Cahill makes it come so thrillingly alive and now I know WHY I should care about Martin Luther and most importantly I now do.

From the Black Death to the Borgias to Michelangelo to yes, Martin Luther, HERETICS AND HEROES is full of riveting stories about the past. The NYT today had an excellent article about education and in it was a quote about the study of history: "The goal of teaching history has always been to make good citizens." This is from a professor at Yale named Thomas Thurston. Well, I think Mr. Cahill's books can go a long way towards making good citizens out of readers. And you'll enjoy the ride!
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on January 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I wish I could say that in the intervening seven years since the publication of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, the previous volume in this series, Mr. Cahill had been able to get back to the simple pleasures of history that made the first four volumes of “The Hinges of History” fun to read. Unfortunately, though he rights the ship somewhat in Heretics and Heroes, he struggles to find the voice of his earlier, better work.

His biggest problem remains the digressions that have become so prominent in his recent work. Though he kept most of his comments in the extensive footnotes this time rather than (irritatingly) in the body of the text, his thoughts on modern controversial issues are distracting from his topic. At least he kept his tone more subdued and less offensive this time around, but his blatant editorializing really has no place here.

Additionally, for the first time, Mr. Cahill’s subject led him to no real through-line for his history. In the past we’ve learned (at least from Mr. Cahill’s argument), how the Irish saved civilization, why the Greeks matter, how feminism rose during the Middle Ages, etc. This time, however, though we get some nice background on Renaissance art and the Protestant Reformation, there’s nothing toward which we are pointed other than, vaguely, “our world”. This book lacks some of the punch of his earlier work.

In many ways, this series has been one of diminishing returns, particularly in the last two volumes. But, out of respect for the enjoyment I had in the first four volumes, I keep sticking with Mr. Cahill. One volume left, we’re told. I hope it’s not too late for him to get back to the kind of book with which he started—fewer footnotes, clear argument, a focus on history, and, most importantly, and enjoyable ride.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie on November 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read all of Cahill's history books and this one continues where "Mysteries of the Middle Ages" left off. I find his writing to make for an interesting read while discussing sometimes complicated material. So if you're into history, philosophy or theology , I highly recommend this book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By James D. Held on November 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This series is terrific! Cahill makes history come alive like one was reading a great novel--the story is great. I decided I had to have each of them in hardback, so Amazon has been a great help in acquiring the older ones, too.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Cahill is a charming writer but a misleading one, who in the interest of promoting himself and enticing the reader, trivializes and misrepresents the past. This is not the first book in which Cahill has misrepresented a complicated and alien past as something easy to assimilates and, well, you know, kind of fun. There is something terribly wrong in this type of oversimplifying complicated phenomena.

I reviewed this book for a journal when it came out and wrote:

In the sixth volume of his Hinges of History series, Cahill takes on the Renaissance and Reformation and mangles them as badly as he did the Middle Ages in his earlier Mysteries of the Middle Ages (2008).

He tries to make history accessible through the gratuitous anachronism: comparing something old with something contemporaneous and thus familiar: Columbus, a “completely self-made man,” is likened to a character “in a David Mamet drama. Francis of Assisi, meet Bernie Madoff.” Historians both amateur and professional will cringe.

Cahill does have things to say --on Catholic theology and sensibilities, Italian Renaissance art for instance- but even here, his views are hackneyed. What’s missing in this mish-mash of the past? There’s little on Machiavelli, or Renaissance science or the mundane changes in Italian business practices that Elizabeth Eisenstein and others argue paved the way for a new, more mathematical mind-set. But this is High History, leaping from mountain peak to mountain peak, with little interest in what went on in the valleys between. this book is too idiosyncratic to deserve attention from the serious lover of history.
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