- Paperback: 672 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (June 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684803526
- ISBN-13: 978-0684803524
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance Reprint Edition
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From Library Journal
Hale describes the end of "Christendom" and the beginning of a new understanding of the terms "Europe" and "European" during the period 1450-1620. He stresses the 16th and early 17th centuries, rather than 15th-century Italy, and is concerned not only with the "new age" of learning but with the characteristics of daily life among Europeans and the roots of contemporary Europe and its culture.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Just what is Europe? asks this distinguished British historian, and his answers begin with the renewed interest in antiquity during the 1500s. Hale examines the myth of Europa's rape by a bullheaded Zeus, discusses the intensity of mapmaking that placed Europe at the center of the world, and then sets forth to capture the entire, vast panorama of European civilization. His text reflects lifelong scholarship, yet Hale carries his gravitas lightly, with a buoyant absence of pedantry. In those passages keyed to his 200-odd illustrations, Hale goes beyond art history to convey what the images say about the changes occuring in day-to-day life. The new paintings by Titian, Raphael, and Hans Holbein, for all their aesthetic exquisiteness, signaled a new continental sensibilityand that sensibility was also rising in the proto-capitalism of trade and in intellectual life. In the everyday world of social control, prejudices, disease, and death, Hale navigates just as steadily, showing that though this was not a humanitarian age, a new definition of civilized life developed that the world retrospectively acknowledges was revolutionary. A brilliant guide to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Hale's style can be compared to a French impressionistic painting. The texture and details awash over the reader like so many dots forming grand narratives and themes; one not so much understands in so many words, but experiences understanding through the revelation of others. Unlike many historical surveys which tell the reader how things were, Hale shows it through direct quotes from the people who lived the age. This is not always easy going, the mind has to constantly shift between examining the dots and the image it paints, sort of like the optical illusion of a vase, or two faces looking at one another, back and forth between perspectives, it is not a book for speedy reading but contemplation and absorption.
Although many subjects are covered in this imaginative social survey, the consistent theme of "civilization" has a title role. In the Middle Ages, Europeans envisioned themselves as belonging to one of three "Estates": The Clergy, The Nobles (warriors), The Peasants. The vast majority were peasants who worked on behalf of the other two estates, who in turn protected and prayed for them. Those who work, fight and pray lived ideally in a sort of balanced harmony according to Christian precepts. However the Peasant estate also included urban merchants, and with increased prosperity in the latter Middle Ages, the distinction between peasant and noble became blurred as merchants became as powerful as nobles (Medici). Other things changed like guns and longbows allowed peasants to fight just as well as knights (100 Years War), so the three estate view started to break down. By the Renaissance, with the rediscovery of Classical texts, they looked back and asked how the Ancients structured society and found it was based on a 2-tier system: civilized and "barbarian" (uncivilized). The 3-tier Christian view was gradually replaced with the 2-tier secular system, which we still use to this day (civil laws, clash of civilizations, uncivilized behavior, civics, etc..). Order, peace and harmony is maintained through civilization and all it entails (education, prosperity, freedom, etc), and what that meant was being worked out in this period.
Hale shows a profound and noticeable change within a single generation starting around the middle of the 15th century, people were conscious and aware of a shift, often saying how they now lived in a modern era, one that surpassed even the ancients. Although they wrongly disparaged the Middle Ages as backwards (a sentiment that sadly still lives to this day among some scholars and the public alike), they were correct that things really did change. Hale's primary theme are these changes as so many contrasting bright new colors on the pale canvas of tradition. By the end of the Thirty Years' War in the early 17th century society had absorbed too many structural changes and "civilization" was collapsing - this lead to a retrenchment through the era of the "Old Regime" and finally, after a period of restoration and stability, an era of social and industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the world we inherit.
As a "good read" the book is fine, until one starts getting caught up on the niggling suspicions that maybe Hale isn't exactly levelling with the reader 100% of the time. Why is it necessary to bring up a fact from another country in another century so closely upon the heels of a particular statement? Were there no contemporary examples which could have been cited?
Hale does a fine job of showing that the Renaissance was a universal European phenomenon, progressing at different rates in different countries, but what is less apparent is that when a bit of data from Northern Europe is brought in to bolster some bit of data from Italy, for example, which occured a century or more earlier, Italy was already in a different "world" than northern Europe at the time. Even explaining the problem of Hale's melange is difficult: while Italy was experiencing its High Renaissance, northern Europe was still muddling through the Middle Ages; when northern Europe was experiencing Renaissance events which highlight and amplify the events which took place in Italy a century or more earlier, Italy was well into the modern age and its Renaissance glories were cannon-blasted memories.
I repeat: this book IS a good read. What it is not, and should not by any means be considered, is a textbook or thorough history of the Reniassance. Any student who tries to write a paper on the Renaissance from this book is going to be in for a big surprise at grade time if the teacher is even remotely savvy to history.
If one wants to follow a thread diligently, of course, one may go from citation to citation in the index, but that tends to defeat Hale's purpose of writing an entertaining book -- better by far to read some of Hale's "serious" monographs or refer to the footnotes and check the bibliography.
As a simple, relaxing reading experience, however, "Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance" is good brain candy for the intelligentsia, and for snagging a date with someone a cut above the intellectual average, it is much better beach reading than a Harold Robbins novel!
You will come away better educated for having read the book, but be prepared to devote substantial time and effort.