Elizabeth's Reviews > The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-century Miller

The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg
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Jan 21, 10

bookshelves: 2010
Read from January 18 to 21, 2010

This book is so hyped in academic circles, that it was perhaps setting itself up as a disappointment before I even cracked it open. I'm sure for the right type of history major (that is, one that's interested in actual events in history rather than their theoretical importance) this is a revelation. For me, it was more boring than I care to admit. I couldn't care about the miller Menocchio anymore than I care about any other random individual on the street. Sure, he was uncommonly literate, and yes it was somewhat interesting to see how his reading manifested itself into his belief system (thus justifying fears that when peasants get a hold of books they are going to come to their own conclusions regarding their contents, rather than those the clergy so dogmatically thrust upon them). However, Ginzburg is careful to not blame books entirely for Menocchio's heresy. He explains (though it sometimes seems like he's doing little more than speculating) how traditions of oral culture combined with the burgeoning literary culture to produce Menocchio's beliefs. In any case, I wanted more theory and less story. Especially since this book is continually praised as an example of how you can tell an important tale without more than a close analysis of a single person's life (thus triumphs the qualitative researcher!). Ginzburg talks a bit about this in the preface, and has some interesting and reasoned insights -- he never claims Menocchio's story is representative, merely that it represents something we haven't heard before. I'm certain this is true; I only wish the new story were more compelling.
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