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A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age Paperback – June 1, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Manchester does a superb job of describing life in Medieval times and of explaining how the Renaissance and Reformation came about. He provides depressing descriptions of daily life and brings to life the excesses and depravity of the Catholic Church during the period. Lest today's Protestants get too haughty, he also covers the less than admirable beginnings of Lutheranism, Calvinism and The Church of England. The Holy Roman Empire and Magellan's famous voyage are covered as well. And then everything is put into context.
My main criticism is that the Kindle version would be well served with a time line chart to tie everything together.
If you have doubts about how you might like this book, try downloading the Kindle sample. If you are like me, you will be hooked.
The book is an interpretation of historical events of a unique era: of cannon and longbow, Wars of the Roses and Age of Discovery, Erasmus and Luther, a struggling emperor of an entity created by Charlemagne and - within the same person - the first true King of a united Spain with its colonial empire upon which the sun never set (Charles V), ... of Thomas More and Henry VIII.
What holds back a five star rating is over reliance on secondary sources (such as Durant’s History of Civilization) and too narrow of a focus: unlike Durant, Manchester does not integrate Russia (of the Ivan The Terrible) into the picture.
Top international reviews
The book tries to cover too much, but William Manchester being such a great storyteller, I enjoyed reading it, especially the second part, the start of the Reformation, which I knew very little about before.
We can draw some unnerving parallels between the reformation and brexit, let's hope the politicians and the public opinion will act less confrontationally, listen to each other and find a cooperative way out from this tremor.
A lot of the negative reviews of this book seem to be by people (Lutheran or Catholic) whose religious views have been enthusiastically insulted by the author. So I should state that I mostly share his prejudices and his dim view of religion. However, I do think that the truth matters and that such a breathtakingly one-sided and poorly-referenced work should not be presented as if it was serious scholarship.