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The Waning of the Renaissance, 1550-1640 (Yale Intellectual History of the West Se) Hardcover – January 11, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Consciously mirroring the title of Johan Huizinga's classic The Waning of the Middle Ages, this welcome addition to the Yale Intellectual History of the West series deconstructs European culture in the age of Cervantes, Montaigne and Galileo. Moving easily across national and disciplinary boundaries, Bouwsma (professor emeritus, UC Berkeley) challenges the assumption that we are direct heirs to the Renaissance. He argues with stunning clarity that the period from 1550 to 1640 was a phase of complex ambivalence, doubt and retreat, and that anxiety stimulated both cultural change and spectacular creativity. Along with the continuing Renaissance drive to destroy old barriers to understanding and human fulfillment came a countervailing concern that freedom had become absurd in excess, as suffocating as the overripe fruit of late-medieval culture, famously described by Huizinga. The imagery of disease, misbirth and disorder became pervasive, while a propensity to melancholy was fashionable in some circles. (Like a number of features of Bouwsma's argument, this has interesting implications for our own modern crises and depressions.) Nothing, people felt, was quite what it seemed; expectation and hypocrisy obscured the deeper self. There was, in short, "a profound set of discontents released by the peculiar freedoms of Renaissance culture." Out of these anxieties a craving for order emerged: a compulsion to categorize, an insistence on social boundaries and a growing attraction for mathematical certainties. Bouwsma produces a masterful portrait of an era, one deserving to become as canonical as Huizinga; it will be increasingly difficult to teach or discuss the 16th century without it. 20 illus. not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A masterful portrait of an era, one deserving to become as canonical as Huizinga." -- Publishers Weekly, (starred review)
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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Intellectual History of the West Se
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (January 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300085370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300085372
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,107,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on July 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is William Bouwsma's thesis that the Renaissance was not the budding spring of the modern age, but an organic era with a beginning and an end. Curiously, the forces given birth at the beginning of the era proved to be so frightening that the Renaissance players rushed to euthanize them. The Renaissance did not wane so much as it was dismantled, like an errant atomic bomb, by scientists overawed by their invention.
Bouwsma examines sixteenth century European thought in piecemeal-philosophy, theology, politics, science, literature, the theater-and with Newtonian precision describes how the adventuresome Renaissance spirit smashed molds of dated thinking and psychological ordering. Then, in reaction to its own recklessness, the Renaissance mind either retreated to old certainties rehabilitated or domesticated its inventions into a more tranquil conventionality.
Historical essays of this sort can make for delightful reading. Boorstin's "The Discoverers," for example, captures both the specificity and the poetry of scientific history. Bouwsma, unfortunately, errs on the side of specificity. The flow of the work reminds one of a lengthy receiving line where every great thinker gets a handshake and a bon mot, but soon it is time to move on to the next guest. This is not to say that some of the guests don't mingle excessively. The author has a warm spot in his heart for Shakespeare, Sarpi, Jonson, Hobbes, Hooker, Galileo, and in particular Bacon and Montaigne, who pop up dozens of times in the narrative. Regrettably, "pop up" is exactly what they do, to provide proof texts and anecdotal spicing. The reader who is not intimately familiar with Bacon, for example, will not get a significant taste of his thought.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is by no means easy to read. But a little persistence pays off handsomely. True enough one gets the impression that the author's own conclusions gets in the way of a more objective explication. Albeit the subject matter is dense as he tackles many very different dimensions of the Renaissance or rather the development of the Renaissance after its clear enough upwelling in the 15th Century in Italy then Europe. But the many strands are pinpointed and it is up to the reader somewhat to uphold or downplay this or that 'tendency'. Also he seems to rely on Hooker rather a lot but I cannot myself comment on the necessity or otherwise of that reliance. Personally I feel there has been too much specialization and therefore loss of appreciation of the broad movements and spectacular pitfalls in history but on the other hand it is not at all easy to characterize an Age without getting sufficient information of sufficient reliability as would require a fairly in-depth study. Bouwsma whets the appetite by the fairly numerous strands he delineates if only to rouse healthy and exciting skepticism.....
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11 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on April 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Historians have viewed Western cultural achievement as a singular progression; William Bouwsma's Waning Of The Renaissance rethinks the view, arguing that the period from 1550-1640 was a phase of complex ambivalence which stimulated cultural change. Chapters consider the yearning for order, social and political discontents of the times, and the process of change.
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