A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance

[Ebook] ➢ A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance By William Manchester – E17streets4all.co.uk From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages In handsomely crafted prose, and with the grace a From tales of Lit Only MOBI ð chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages In handsomely crafted prose, and with the grace and authority of his extraordinary gift for narrative history, William Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its rebirththe dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as some of its A World ePUB Æ most spectacular villainsthe Renaissance.A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance

William Raymond Manchester Lit Only MOBI ð was an American author and biographer, notable as the bestselling author of books that have been translated into languagesHe was awarded the National Humanities Medal and the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award.

A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the
  • Paperback
  • 322 pages
  • A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance
  • William Manchester
  • English
  • 04 August 2017
  • 9780316545563

10 thoughts on “A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance

  1. says:

    I didn't finish this book. As I basically study the middle ages, all the information was not new or its credibility was highly questionable. Seriously, this guy HATES the middle ages and this book is a one sided rant on how completely dumb and primitive the people were before the Rennaissance saved everyone.

    One such random fact that the author gets stuck on is that silverware wasn't introduced until the end of the 16th (maybe 15th...errr) century. Gasp! How can they be so uncivilized??? Using their hands to eat? There seem to be plenty of world cultures that get along fine today using their hands as utensils...

    Basically, a civilization that doesn't strive for progress for the sake of progress is not worthy of existing. Granted, lots of external things lead up to the supposed stoppage in progress...plagues, famines, the collapse of rome. Yet, most of Europe, while part of the Roman empire, never had the technology that Rome was known for.

    Most importantly, in his one sided attack, he gloriously praises people like Magellan for proving that the world was round (even though people had known this for centuries) while completely glossing over the nameless people of the middle ages who also strove for progress. Their namelessness, to him, makes them less worthy. Still, learning went on in monasteries if of a different kind than today. He even slights the great cathedrals built by these nameless workers despite the new discoveries in architecture that have kept them standing even today. Ok...I could go on...but I'm gonna stop.

  2. says:

    I haven’t read anything else by William Manchester, but he’s a good writer, and I’m sure he’s a smart guy. He’s written several biographies on Churchill, and one on JFK, and a memoir detailing his experiences during World War II in the Pacific. But Manchester is a reporter and a chronicler of modern history, and his rather sudden attempt to catalogue the medieval and early modern era in about three hundred pages is – at best – a very misguided effort that paints a terribly artificial and superficial picture of the Middle Ages. At worst, it’s a willfully ignorant piece of polemic that, despite the title of his book’s first section, makes absolutely no attempt at truly understanding the medieval mind.

    The problem boils down to the fact that there wasn’t nearly enough research done by the author to allow him to write a book like this. Apparently, Manchester literally wrote this book as he was researching it, and based it entirely on secondary literature. Instead of spending a few years researching and getting a feel for the era, the complexities and viewpoints and the historically fuzzy spots, he just sat down, picked up some (often outdated) secondary sources and wrote a book as he was reading them.

    It would be one thing if Manchester had simply come to his conclusions through genuine scholarship. It’s certainly a conclusion you could make from looking at some medieval primary sources, though I’d argue it’s a superficial one. But Manchester doesn’t bother. And the idea of writing a history book that spans about 1200 years without picking up a primary source is, honestly, kind of reprehensible to me. It’s not that Manchester misinterpreted these people, it’s that he seemed to genuinely not particularly care how they viewed their own world, at least not enough to pick up a book and read a few of their own words. To write a general history book on an era that spanned a millennium and then to harshly condemn that era without reading a primary source written by the people who lived through it is genuinely irresponsible.

    Early on, Manchester makes the kind of astounding statement that “in the medieval mind, there was no conception of time.” In microcosm, that represents everything that is wrong with this book. On a superficial level, sure, there’s some truth in the statement – people didn’t keep track of time in the same way that we do today. But the idea that a predominantly agricultural society had no conception of time doesn’t make any kind of logical sense, and from a theological or philosophical standpoint, it’s hugely wrong, and once again serves to show that Manchester seems entirely unaware of the underpinnings of the era. And when you’re writing a history book like this one, that’s exactly what you need to get right.

  3. says:

    This was a fantastic book that is highly readable for fans of art and history alike. It describes the way the world was on the cusp of modernity as we moved from the Middle Ages towards the Renaissance. It is similar to other books on the subject (Panofksy comes to mind), but this one is written a bit more with a less erudite style and yet is engaging and interesting. Highly recommended.

  4. says:

    Magellan in Context

    Manchester starts off writing a biography of Magellan, but in his attempt to put a context to his life, motivations and adventures, ends up expanding his scope until some six centuries of the medieval period are swallowed up by the story. Manchester then repackages the book as a book about the Renaissance and lets it fade into the Magellan biography.

    It was interesting to see this process at work. I am not sure why all biographies don't become a record of an age, in fact of all history. Can any life be examined independent of context? Take for example the Steve Jobs biography industry. Not one of them takes us back to the beginning of electronics and sketches the exciting journey to personal computing and then plops the Steve Jobs story into that context, showing us his role in shaping that context for the next guy who is to be plopped into it. Instead most such books almost manage to leave an impression that its subjects were sui generis and not one among a teaming multitude with similar ambitions, aims, etc out of which he/she rose to the surface and shined for a while, due to an arresting set of circumstances, most of it do with plain dumb randomness -- otherwise known as luck.

    That would be a true biography.

    Manchester has stumbled on the outline for one here. But he probably did not see what he had and aims too low, giving us a mish-mash of movements, ideas and events, not coherently presented and not tying in well with the core Magellen biography. Still, it was exciting to think of the possibilities of such a history-biography.

  5. says:

    Inconsistencies and half truths make for an interesting narrative, but not a good history.

    This book attempts to cover a lot of ground. However, several things in the book made me suspicious of the reliability of the information. For instance, Manchester references the events of the Pied Piper, depicting him as an actual historical character and the murderer of 130 children.

    I found this intriguing and went online to learn more -- I found a Straight Dope column that refuted Manchester's speculation.


    In a portrait of an Italian clergyman, Girolamo Savonarola, who defied a decadent Pope (and was excommunicated and burned for his trouble), Manchester describes a man of the people, beloved by the common folk. He then describes how these followers turn against the priest (out of fear from the all-powerful pope) when the pope brought the hammer down. A little digging reveals that the priest was not as popular as Manchester asserts -- taking from them the equivalent of TV, movies, and video games.

    I found I didn't want to read any more of the book, since I could no longer trust the veracity of the author.

  6. says:

    My daughter brought this book to my attention about 10 years ago. WHAT?!? You haven't read this?!? Here! with a forceful thrust, causing the book to thump into my chest rather painfully. (The bruises have since healed.)

    Since that copy, I have given to others eleven more; I seem to be able to keep the book for about six months before someone just *has* to read it and *now*, so out it goes again. Weeks go by, and I fretfully search the used bookeries for another copy; always one shows up, usually in very good to unread condition (philistines! Imagine having this book and not reading it!), and spend the buck or so to bring it home *for the last time* as I will keep *this* one forever.

    Uh-huh. As we see, that resolve is doomed. I'm sending this one to that soldier who wanted history books. He'll like this one, I bet!

    It's a leap of imagination that I feel 21st-century people have small success at making, but the time when the world was lit only by fire didn't end until late in the 19th century. No flipping switches for instant light. No reading lamp that just needs a little flick to provide bright, shadowless (unless you sited it in a funny place) light for as long as you like. No street illumination worth a damn.

    A world of shadows. A world of unseen details. A world that gave us fabulous artistic achievements, amazing literary joys, and most of our modern ideas about religion, which I for one could do without.

    Manchester makes this world shimmer into focus, bronze-gold candleflame coloring each and every idea, achievement, material object he describes. We really see what he's talking about through their eyes, if we possess even a hint of imagination.

    I love this book, and I think everyone in the least bit interested in history should read it because it's beautifully written and conceived. It's a pleasure to pass it on to another initiate. I hope he falls in love the way I did. Please try it. It's worth your time to sink without a ripple into a world long vanished.

  7. says:

    William Manchester characterizes the Middle Ages as one of obsession with strange myths and almost impenetrable mindlessness. In fact, this is a perfect description of the flaws of his book, which is among the worst works of history I have ever read. Full disclosure: I put it down in disgust after page 102 and did not pick it up again.

    Still, the book did contain the following favorite howlers, which made it so bad that at times it was almost good:
    • Medieval people had no sense of time: Generations succeeded one another in a meaningless timeless blur. (I wonder how they figured out when to plant their crops or how to show up for church on the right day of the week?)
    • In summertime, peasants went about naked. (I don't remember seeing a lot of naked peasants in medieval art. Perhaps the author is thinking about cherubim and seraphim.)
    • Prostitutes were the cleanest people in Europe during the Middle Ages, because they had to expose their entire bodies. (It's nice to hear something good about the Middle Ages for a change.)
    • Teenage peasant girls were well-behaved on Sundays, but on weekdays opened their blouses, hiked their skirts and romped the fields in search of phalli. (Apparently this was to avoid the dreaded fate of spinsterhood.)
    • The English of both sexes were known even then for their insolence. Their women were so foul-mouthed that Joan of Arc called them the goddamns. (He's probably thinking of New Yorkers).
    • Adultery amongst the nobility was typical and usually took place with the agreement of both spouses. (Very civilized of them, no?)
    • The basic cause of the moral loosening of Europe during the early years of the Renaissance was the growth of wealth. During the early sixteenth century, lust seethed throughout Europe. Rome, the capital of Christendom, was the capital of sin. (I believe the author was raised in a stern Protestant New England household in the early part of the last century, although the mindset seems more 19th century than anything else.)

  8. says:

    If you are looking for a well researched and reasoned history of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance do not read this book. If you are looking for a starting point for the Intellectual History of Europe during the Dark Ages and Renaissance; this book might be a good way to go.

    The historical accuracy of this book is to be strongly questioned and doubted. However, I still like this book. The reason I like this book is that it is about ideas. What the author does is take a very one sided argumentative stance. His basic theses are. 1. The Medieval common man was an unthinking idiot. 2. Intellectual thought and innovation were non existent. 3. The Church is primarily responsible for the lack of innovation. 4. Rebellious free thinkers were able to throw open doors that could not be closed once opened. All of these premises are far too extreme to be true.

    However, by taking these extreme view points, he sets the stage for the reader to research and learn about the Dark Ages and come up with his/her own arguments. One must start somewhere when learning about Intellectual History, and this book, precisely because of it's extremism, gives the reader ideas to challenge or agree with.

    Also, I found his views to be entertaining. I think it's a good read. I also loved his depiction of Erasmus; made him quite heroic in my eyes.

    In the end, I agree with him. The Medieval Age was a very stagnant time for Europe.Later triumphs for Europe are in spite of the Middle Ages, not because of them. The efforts of the Church were far more hurtful then helpful to people at large. In spite of the myriad of restrictions, Europe was able to overcome these circumstances and embark on a very fruitful epoch (which, of course ,brought it's on problems, but that is another story).

    NOTE: I use the terms Dark Ages, Medieval and Middle Ages interchangeably in this review; my apologies to those who take issue with the use of these terms in this way.

  9. says:

    Little primary research and a whole lot of assumptions and judgments about medieval thought made this book repellent. I wondered if it was written fast to gain the popular reader who wants sensational history with a large dose of We're so much smarter, we moderns.

  10. says:

    Didn't finish this. Manchester sees the middle ages as a dark age of ignorance and stagnation the antithesis of the Renaissince. Its a pretty out of date attitude as the current belief is that people invneted and disvoered lots of stuff during the middle ages and that it was the plant that supported the flowering of the Renaissance. Also he's a believer in the Great man view of history also pretty old hat since behind every great man are the toilers who made all his discoveries possible and the events which allowed him to express his greatness.
    However I just read a review talking about serious debauchery and am considering giving it another go.

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