Marfy's Reviews > A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age

A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
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's review
Apr 10, 12

liked it
bookshelves: middle-ages, renaissance, italy, byzantium-etc
I own a copy

I'm a newcomer to GoodReads. This is the first book I happen to be reading since signing up. This review is more like book notes, since the field for private notes only allows 100 characters. It is not meant to be a definitive review of this book. Also, I add to it as I read, so it will seem disjointed.
Like all interesting books, I've learned a lot from this; for instance, that the Huns were once the Hsiung-nu. They attacked Russia after being turned away at the Great Wall of China, and easily defeated the once formidable Goths. Manchester describes how truly dark the Dark Ages were, and how the Church replaced the Roman Empire as the social glue. Interesting paradox of religion and violence, but then Christianity was not practiced the way Christ taught it. The popes of the Middle Ages were certainly nothing like the person they were supposed to emulate--St. Peter. All the paradoxes and ironies of "the Medieval Mind" are described here; a good list on pg. 27-28 of men who disrupted that mindset and introduced the Renaissance. But Manchester does not pay enough attention to the scholars of Toledo and the cross-fertilization that took place there, or the power of cultural cross-fertilization in general. The only mention of Aristotle concerns his ideas about the rotundity of the earth, except for a brief mention on pg 25 of "the rediscovery of Aristotelian learning." And only a passing reference to Neo-Platonism (pg. 8). Seems to me that Manchester neglected to read Aristotle's Children. Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages Just checked--Manchester can be forgiven, since his book came out years before Aristotle's Children was published.
There is an excellent description of the trials and travails and odd personal traits of Martin Luther, not an easy person to get along with, and surprised by the upheavals his ideas created. The other character I learned about was Erasmus, who was far more interesting than I had thought.
The title presumably refers to a world where technology and invention were little known, the age before electricity, I suppose. But perhaps he's talking about the ferment of the Renaissance. The introduction does not explain.

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Reading Progress

04/08/2012 page 206
04/08/2012 page 208
62.0% "Good explanation of the political ramifications of the divorce that Henry VIII petitioned for."
04/09/2012 page 223
66.0% "The rest of the book focuses on Magellan, and why he was so critical to the new age."
04/09/2012 page 234
70.0% "Erik the Red and his son Leif's voyages cannot be considered part of the expansion of Europe; they were "only a prelude." Ireland was "virtually undiscovered," and to most of Europe, Vikings were nor more than "pagan plunderers.""
04/09/2012 page 234
70.0% "The Italian explorers who added so much to the prosperity of their country, and thus fueled the renaissance, we're outdone by Spanish and Portugese explorers, which led to the end of the Italian Renaissance, as much as did the Protestant Reformation. Interesting theory."
04/09/2012 page 236
70.0% "Chaucer as student of world navigation; this is a surprise, and especially his eventual influence on Henry the Navigator."
04/10/2012 page 286
85.0% "After a fascinating description of Magellan's disaster in the Philippines, and the irony of Spain's reception of the survivors, Manchester states that Magellan was heroic when he died in a totally inappropriate military action, while soldiers who sacrifice themselves for their 'comrades' by throwing themselves on a live grenade are acting instinctively and therefore not heroes, -- well, I beg to disagree."

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