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The Renaissance : A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles) 0th Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
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ISBN-10: 067964086X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This slim volume is among the first in a new series, the Modern Library Chronicles, described by the publisher as "authoritative, lively, and accessible." Noted historian Johnson's (A History of the American People, etc.) book satisfies on the latter two countsAit provides a serviceable introduction for the general readerAhowever, on the first count it falls short. Johnson offers an unimaginative and superficial history, with insidious signs of haste, like the claim that Charles V created El Escorial. Few will be surprised that the Renaissance was "primarily a human event" or excited by the pedestrian approach: dates of birth and death abound. Although he avoids blind admiration (the Mona Lisa "shows the defects of [Leonardo's] slovenly method of working"), Johnson is resolutely canonical: Chaucer is one of precisely four writers in English whose genius, he claims, cannot be rationally explained (Shakespeare, Dickens and Kipling are the others). Other value judgments will also raise eyebrows: Leonardo, for instance, had "not much warmth to him. He may, indeed, have had homosexual inclinations." Johnson equivocates on Michelangelo: he was quarrelsome, secretive and mean-spirited, but to say he was neurotic is "nonsense." More interesting is the remark that the humanists were outsiders, beyond the stifling university pale; the author evidently senses kindred spirits, and he snipes at academia. But there is much here for the academicians to attack, and it is difficult to see how this volume improves on, say, Peter Burke's even briefer volume The Renaissance. 3-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Historian Johnson, fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, and author of A History of the American People, has written a concise and comprehensive survey of the Renaissance, published as part of Modern Library's new "Chronicles" series, which also includes Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History. Johnson begins by looking at earlier periods of post-Roman European history that were precursors of the Renaissance and also considers when the term Renaissance became common usage. In the book's early sections, he assesses the historic and economic background of the period and then examines the Renaissance in literature and scholarship, the anatomy of Renaissance sculpture, Renaissance buildings, the evolution of painters and paintings of the period, and, finally, the dissemination and decline of the Renaissance. Johnson has included a chronology of significant events, a list of key period figures, and an incredible amount of other informationDfrom the number of printed books in Europe to the controversy over polyphonic music in the 16th century. This work will be of interest to both students and lay readers, who will find that nothing else on the Renaissance is available in this price range and size. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
-DRobert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (August 2000)
  • ISBN-10: 067964086X
  • ASIN: B0002NKDU2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,837,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Paul Johnson's _The Renaissance: A Short History_ (Modern Library) is indeed short. It gives capsule biographies of the main artists of the time, and the interrelations between different facets of the arts and the economic and religious trends. It is unillustrated, but pithy, and as a small book on a huge subject, it is excellent. Repeatedly, Johnson shows just how the Renaissance artists drew on ancient models. Roman type was developed by studying the classic engraved letters, artists began to use themes from pagan myths instead of only depicting scenes from the Bible, scholars resumed the task (abandoned throughout the middle ages) of critically examining scriptural texts, and the rules of perspective were rediscovered.
Johnson also has insights on particular artistic processes. For instance, his description of the advantages and disadvantages of tempera use on wet plaster is excellent; the rules of perspective gave enormous freedom to the artists to depict real scenes, but artists were constrained by the fresco technique which demanded that final decisions be made about a large work before any coloring of the plaster was begun, since corrections could only be made by starting all over again. When painting in oil was introduced, artists could make a living painting not on walls but on canvas. With canvas came the easel, and artists could not only paint scenes from life, but could work in their studios where models (and clients) were readily accessible. This involved less church work, ending the religious monopoly on art, and giving another impetus towards humanism.
The most important lesson from the Renaissance, however, is not its deposing the centrality of the church.
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This was a tough one to call as far as how many stars to give...I was wavering between 3 and 4. The most accurate rating would probably be 3 1/2 stars. On the negative side there are two drawbacks to the book. The first is, if you have already read a few books on the Renaissance you won't find much that is new here. The second drawback is the lack of pictures- really inexcusable in a book of this kind. (That is probably the major reason why I went with 3 stars rather than 4.) The majority of the book deals with architecture, sculpture and painting. How can you not include reproductions? I realize that the publisher wanted to keep the price down, but they could have at least included a few plates....even some black and white ones would have been helpful (especially in the sections on architecture and sculpture, where color is not that essential). On the positive side, if you haven't read anything on the Renaissance this book is a good starting point. Mr. Johnson provides some historical background, and then he tells a little bit about key figures in all of the areas mentioned above, (and before he gets into the visual arts he has a good chapter on the heavyweights in the areas of literature and scholarship). Another good thing about the book is that even though it is short and Mr. Johnson has to cram in a lot of people, the book isn't written like an encyclopedia. The prose isn't dry. The author is enthusiastic and isn't afraid to express his opinions. To give you an example, Mr. Johnson includes several pages on Dante and Chaucer- to show that even though they wrote in an earlier period they were harbingers of what the Renaissance was all about...they were fascinated by individual human beings and therefore created characters who were real rather than archetypes.Read more ›
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This is one of the most informative books on the Renaissance I have ever read. In fewer than two hundred pages Johnson manages to examine in fair detail the major and minor figures associated with the Renaissance. Johnson's thesis is that the Renaissance was a dramatic shift from the collectivism of Medieval art, literature, and society, to an individualism that respected both the artist/writer and his subjects as unique, singular beings rather than mere archetypes. Johnson adds, however, that the Renaissance was not inevitable: without the improbable appearance of a handful of geniuses, the birth of modernity might not have taken place as it did. Among Johnson's arguments, grasped by attentive readers, is that historical events like the Renaissance cannot be confined to exact dates. Thus, Johnson usefully and justifiably discusses early writers such as Dante and Chaucer because, as careful readers will note, the innovation and spirit of their works were groundbreaking and indispensably influential on the literature that unfolded as the Renaissance progressed. Johnson is well worth your time, particularly if you are in the mood for a digestible, refreshing take on the Renaissance in a short, easily readable volume.
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Format: Hardcover
The whole point in picking up this book is that it promises to be short. That's what you want. That said, it is inevitable to think, as you draw to the end, that gee, it has left a few things out. That is a minor criticism, however, for a book that encompasses the extraordinary cultural advances of the Renaissance in a lucid narrative that rises well above outline format. Johnson chooses to emphasize the artistic growth of the era (the economics of the book's length apparently caused science and mathematics to get the short end). What Johnson does look at, however, he looks at in depth, with high appreciation for the aesthetics and enduring significance. His first chapter does a good job of sorting out the political, religious and cultural conditions that led to this unparalleled period in human history. For someone untrained in historical inquiry, whose education in world history was minimal and a long time ago, this book was a pleasant refresher course.
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