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The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – April 9, 2002

3.5 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Review

“The greatest single book on the history of Italy between 1350 and 1550.”—Hajo Holborn

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759260
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,933,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Jacob Burckhardt had one of those rare minds who could construct a new synthesis out of thought, government, art, and culture -- and who, for the first time, made it possible to talk about the Renaissance as a moment in the history of Western man.
This is a very dense work with flashes of genius as well as long scholarly footnotes with extensively quoted Italian and Latin. In a book by a dullard, this would be excruciating. But Burckhardt is anything but as he manages his material like a Moscow taxi driver: by accelerating and then coasting. When you least expect it, another epiphany draws you in.
Burckhardt's Renaissance was an incredible high in the history of mankind. The Medicis, Sforzas, and Malatestas strut their way through the history of the period; Dante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante create works of the imagination that still overpower us; popes like Julius II, Alexander VI, and Leo X combine worldliness with spirituality (sometimes); and even the average man has a face and a voice for the first time.
This book will make your blood race.
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By A Customer on July 27, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Yes, this is still the standard for studies of the Renaissance. But the book deserves a better edition: especially one with relevant illustrations on the page. The best I've seen is the 1958 two-volume Illustrated Edition by the Perennial Library of Harper & Row: not only are all notes conventiently at the bottom of the page, but over 240 illustrations grace the text, usually next to the mention of the subject. Too bad it is out of print. I hope an enterprising publisher will rise to the challenge.
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Format: Hardcover
For much of the last 139 years, Jacob Burckhardt's work has been dismissed as too "Nineteenth Century" for serious study: more literature than serious history. So much the pity. What Burckhardt left us in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is a magisterial, thematic, understanding of the Italian Renaissance that is far more 1990's in its observations and human understandings than its original 1860's. It is a shame that Burckhardt's famous pupil, Nietzsche, didn't learn a little more balance and discretion at his elder's feet. This book is a joy to read. Like Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this work shows us how history can engage the spirit, and how far off the mark some modern historians have gone with their more "scholarly" work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Burckhardt's brilliance is undeniable. His erudition is obvious and his synthesis of numerous themes and what would now be deemed separate academic disciplines is magnificent. The edition, however, was awful. Individual pages had literally dozens of typos and an entire half a chapter was printed twice. While I would gladly recommend the work, I strongly suggest finding another edition.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Burckhardt's 'Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy' is fundamental to our understanding of the Renaissance, even though it has long since ceased to be definitive. For Burckhardt (who wrote `Civilization' in the 1850s), the Italian Renaissance represented the punctuated end of the middle ages and the beginning of the modern world. He placed particular emphasis on the idea that for the first time in history, the Renaissance gave us "individuality": the idea that a person could separate themselves from the crowd by their creative genius (in art, politics, science, etc.).

Contemporary scholarship, however, takes a more nuanced approach: while Burckhardt did indeed identify in the Renaissance new cultural, political, and artistic trends, it is now argued that the Renaissance nevertheless retained many aspects of medieval civilization while the Italians, and later other Europeans, revived classical art, architecture, and science and created a new economic and political order.

Two different publishers of this book each offer introductions by two excellent contemporary historians: the Penguin Classics version is introduced by Peter Burke, and the Random House Modern Library version is introduced by Peter Gay. In the Penguin version (reviewed here) Burke (as elsewhere) argues that the Renaissance was not the clean break with the medieval past that Burckhardt suggests, although he readily acknowledges Burckhardt's foundational contribution to early Renaissance scholarship: "Burckhardt's view of the Renaissance may be easy to criticize, but it is also difficult to replace.
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Format: Paperback
Burckhardt's Civilization is a classic. Of course, it provides a view of Renaissance Italy that differs from more recent works. New information has come to light. New interpretations have been proposed. But little (if any) of the information considered relevant by Burckhardt has been shown to be wrong. As EH Carr has pointed out, the perspectives of different times on the past are necessarily different because different times have different experiences and different attitudes. But different perspectives do not imply that one is right and all the others wrong: all that difference implies is difference, and different perspectives are frequently broadening.

To be sure, Burckhardt did not have the advantage of the scholarship of the last 150 years, and so some of his conclusions will be outdated. For example, anyone who has read Huizinga is likely to conclude that the 14th and 15th centuries in Italy were just as much successors to the 13th century as precursors of the 16th. Anyone who has read Braudel is likely to wonder how much of what Burckhardt saw as unique to Italy was not part of a broader Mediterranean matrix that included, say, Constantinople. That the reader will not learn all there is to know about the subject from Burckhardt's book alone is a problem only for those naive enough to believe that any one history completely and accurately illuminates some aspect of the past. Historical information is always partial, but few if any have ever known more about Italy in the 14th and 15th century than did Burckhardt.

Unfortunately, the quality of this edition is so awful with such frequent typos that it is impossible to get into Burckhardt's mind and readily follow him on his journey because the reader must constantly struggle to figure out what the text should say. Read Burckhardt by all means, but not in this edition.
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