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Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World Paperback – September 2, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Michael Servetus was burned at the stake for heresy in 1553, he had spent much of his life running from the Church. Born into a noble Spanish family, he studied medicine and the humanities extensively. By age 20, he had written a treatise on the Trinity that incensed Church authorities and led him into self-imposed exile. But the book that doomed Servetus was Christianismi Restitutio (Christianity Restored), which challenged, among other ideas, John Calvin's doctrine of predestination and argued that God exists in all people and all things. The reaction to Servetus's text was so vehement that all copies discovered were destroyed. As the Goldstones (book collectors and authors of Used and Rare, etc.) reveal, three copies of the book still exist. In this lively account, the authors vividly recreate a Renaissance world of revolution and reform in which the dissemination of ideas flourished thanks to the printing press. They also trace the paths of the surviving copies of Christianismi Restitutio as they make their way through the hands of Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson and physician William Osler. More than a theological treatise, the Christianismi Restitutio contains a paragraph that explains pulmonary circulation, decades before William Harvey generally credited with this discovery announced his find. The Goldstones offer both a portrait of an important but neglected Renaissance humanist and a testimony to the power of books to shape minds and hearts. Illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

The Goldstones, who have written previous volumes about book collecting, here offer a look at the turbulent 1500s and Michael Servetus, a Spanish lay theologian and physician of convictions and brilliance who was executed for his polemical writings. His early desire for a rebirth of Christianity resulted in condemnation, secret flight, and the assumption of a new identity as a medical student in Paris. His studies there resulted in a major medical discovery: understanding the function of our pulmonary circulation system. He became a celebrated physician and a sought-after editor, and moved from being a Catholic to being a reformer, with views of the Trinity that antagonized John Calvin. In the anonymously published Christianismi Restitutio, Servetus reworked additional contentious themes, but the ugly politics of the times caught up with him. He was condemned and burned at the stake, and all but three copies of his book were destroyed. Saved from the flames, these volumes speak triumphantly of the courage of Servetus and the power of the printed word; today, the early roots of the Unitarian Church are seen in his ideas. This fascinating account is recommended for historical and religious collections.
George Westerlund, formerly with Providence P.L.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1st edition (September 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767908376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767908375
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on January 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is the story of a man and his book.
The man is Michael Servetus. He was a brilliant young Spaniard born into a world of religious upheaval and burgeoning science. Though he would become a well-respected physician who was the first (even before Harvey) to discover pulmonary circulation, he ran into trouble when he passionately espoused anti-Trinitarian beliefs--beliefs deemed heresy not only by the Roman Catholic Church but by important Protestant strongholds as well.
The book is Christianismi Restituto. It was in this book that Servetus argued his unitarian stand and put forth his idea of pulmonary circulation. What was believed to be the last known copy of this book was chained to Servetus' leg as he was burned at the stake in Geneva in 1553. Of course, the book did survive; otherwise, there would be no story to tell and Servetus would be lost to history.
In fact, as we learn through the pages of this wonderful book by the Goldstones, three copies of the book survived and are now extremely valuable. As a book collector, the story of the provenance of the three surviving copies is fascinating in itself. But there is much more of interest here than the story of a book.
Much along the lines of the trend started by Dava Sobel in Longitude, the Goldstones tell the story of a much forgotten but most important moment in history. Amid the background of the development of printing and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, we learn of a man who made a huge scientific discovery that was basically forgotten for most of a century and re-discovered by the man who is usually credited with the discovery (Harvey). But, more importantly, we learn of a man who is swept up in the spirit of Protestantism and yet is destroyed by the very forces he helped to create.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A book can be a dangerous thing. Ask Salman Rushdie. While it is true that most of western society has a heritage of press freedom, and such a concept has not yet become part of all societies, we did not get to it easily. In the United States, one can publish whatever one wants about religious ideas, and no legal charge of blasphemy can result; in no small part, this is due to the fate of Michael Servetus, who was burned at the stake for writing about unacceptable religious ideas in 1553. He became a hero for such lights as Voltaire and Jefferson, and a foundation for the Unitarian Church. His story is vigorously told in Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World (Broadway Books) by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. The Goldstones, who are book collectors, have made this a story of Servetus's physical books and of the history of publishing, as well as a history of intellectual progress against oppressive religious power.
The "fatal heresy" in the title comes from Servetus's ideas that were not only anathema to the Catholic church, but were also detested by the Protestants that had adopted doctrine from the Catholics. Servetus, for instance, abhorred the idea of the Trinity, and being a supremely knowledgeable biblical scholar, knew there was nothing in the Bible about any such Trinity. He also had biblical arguments against original sin, childhood baptism, virgin birth, and predestination. Knowing his Bible, however, didn't save him. He had to hide from both Catholics and Protestants, and under an assumed identity, became a doctor. In this role, he made discoveries about the circulation of the blood that predated Harvey's by seventy-five years.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Galen K. Valentine on October 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Goldstone's write in the prologue that, Out of the Flames, is, "...the story of one book - Michael Servtus's book..." and even the title proclaims it is, "The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, A Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World." But I think the Epilogue contains a better characterization of what this book aspired to, and sometimes achieved: "But there were also those, no less brilliant, who did not succeed, whose ideas could not take root before they were crushed. Their vision and passion were no less intense, and what they had to say no less vital to the human spirit. It was only circumstance that separated them from the others [Newton, Shakespeare, etc.]."

Navigating your way through the important events of any period in history can be tricky. And the Goldstone's have a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short book - Servetus' story encompasses much of the period generally labeled the Reformation. Only those events and characters in some way related to the story of Servetus', Christianismi Restitutio are included in Out of the Flames. But even this narrowing still leaves a lot of interacting events and characters to write about in only a few hundred pages. The author's do an admirable job in their selections. The narrative does seem to jump around, but the Goldstone's rarely take a long time in bringing it back to Servetus and the Christianismi Restitutio. And, at times, their journey through the Reformation landscape is marred by oversimplification and the occasional twentieth century viewpoint ascribed to sixteenth century characters. Take the Goldstone's brief treatment of the origins of the printing press.
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