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Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World

(The Hinges of History #6)

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,121 ratings  ·  196 reviews
In Volume VI of his acclaimed Hinges of History series, Thomas Cahill guides us through a time so full of innovation that the Western world would not again experience its like until the twentieth century: the new humanism of the Renaissance and the radical religious alterations of the Reformation.
       This was an age in which whole continents and peoples were
Paperback, 368 pages
Published August 12th 2014 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jason Koivu
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Thomas Cahill's Heretics and Heroes is a great look at the interwoven connection between the Reformation and the Renaissance, taking in a large swath of the primary leaders in religion, politics and the artists during that time period.

To be honest, history buffs won't find much new here as Cahill runs over the basics on the various kings, queens, popes, bishops, painters and sculptors of the 14th through 17th centuries. Take this as a good intro to that period, covering what any history course
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's as if Thomas Cahill invites me to a party thrown for the most interesting people of the 15th and 16th century, so I feel like I have to go to meet everyone! But whenever I start mingling with any of the guests (Christopher Columbus, Michelangelo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc.), Cahill interrupts our conversation and starts talking about himself, or makes fun of his guests, or yells at them for living in a different era. Maybe he's just having a bad night.

Cahill does inspire me to learn
Clif Hostetler
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is a history of the Renaissance and Reformation era told through a series of short biographies of leading artists and religious leaders. The author frequently comments on parallels to current events which is in keeping with his stated goal of exploring how actions taken in that era led to the world we have today. The history is told in a conversational style that lays out the evolution of our Western sensibility while avoiding a strict chronological series of wars and catastrophe.

Disappointing. I have enjoyed the Hinges of History series and was really looking forward to this volume, which has been a long time coming. It has many of the same excellent qualities as the earlier volumes- highly readable, easily digestible history with wonderful discussions of the contributions of artists, poets and writers. For some reason, this book does not contain any discussion of major musicians of the period - an absence Cahill admits but shuts off. Was it really impossible to add ...more
Lauren Hiebner
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
This is a very readable brief history of the Renaissance and Reformation by Cahill. He focuses on the history of art and religion especially identifying people that challenged authority and made an impact not only for that time but for future generations as well. This is the second last in a series of Cahills Hinges of History series that started with the book How the Irish Saved Civilization. I would recommend all books in this series. A good read. ...more
Prima Seadiva
Library Audiobook, well read by the author.
Overall I enjoyed the book. Even though I mostly agree with the author's political views, his insertions and comparisons of present to past were sometimes distracting due to the vigor of his opinions. It helps if you have some familiarity of the events and people of the Reformation.

In particular I enjoyed the parts about the artists. As with the Reformation, helps if you have some familiarity of their lives and works. Again the author clearly asserts
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahills series The Hinges of History highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth
Jean-Paul Adriaansen
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Cahill brings us a masterful account of how the Renaissance came to be and how it changed the world forever.
Read how artists, scientists, and theologians, rediscovered Greek culture and science and discreetly put their doubts and accusations about the Church in their works. And they could spread their ideas thanks to Gutenberg. His adapted wine press caused a knowledge boom like the internet does today.
Read about the new Humanist thinking, the origins of new Christian religions, the Inquisition
Rambling Reader
surprisingly good for bedtime reading. too interesting and lively to lull me into la la land.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book, the latest in Thomas Cahills Hinges of History series. As with his previous books, Cahill provides an in-depth look at the philosophies and mindsets that underpinned major shifts in Western culture. In this case the rise of the Renaissance, the subsequent (and very related) Reformation, and the shifts of the Counter-Reformation (though Cahill makes a point of explaining why the Counter-Reformation should be treated on an equal footing with the Reformation and not bluntly separated ...more
David Henkhaus
The first sentence of his "Acknowledgments" could serve as a summary of my review: "Each volume in the Hinges of History series has presented its own challenges to the author, but no volume has been so challenging as this one."

I confess that I have not yet read some of the middle volumes in the series, but this entry lacks the cohesion and consistency of the first two. It may be that as time unfolds and history ages, it becomes simpler to link events of the past to developments in subsequent
Carl Williams
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Thomas Cahill has a knack of taking a deep and expansive of research and presenting to the reader the wide brush strokes that result from the specific. Good stuff. In this book, the sixth in his _Hinges of History Series_, he investigates the cultural transformations that led to our current understanding and celebration of the individual though the Renaissance and Reformation. His examples are fascinating and if you listen to the book (read by himself) like I did, youll need a scarp of paper ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have enjoyed Cahill's books, and have enjoyed this one as well, because he isn't bashful about telling the story of Western Civilization through the humanities. His books are brisk, occasionally humorous, filled with context and generous. Though occasionally, he makes hamhanded attempts at making the books "relevant" by using contemporary events for context, I don't feel, as some other reviewers have, that he was somehow hiding his worldview. I was amused at what seem his value judgments about ...more
Dec 19, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Cahill's earlier HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION and had found his account of how the Irish contributed more to our civilization that they are generally given credit for quite interesting. Cahill is equally interesting, even entertaining, in this latest book in his ongoing history series. His next efforts are apparently going to concentrate on the making of the modern world.

So how did "renaissance artists and reformation priests" create our world, as Cahill claims they did? If there's
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, history
This book, part of Cahill's "Hinges of History" series, covers the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-reformation and other movements in their immediate aftermath. It focuses on the major personalities in each movement but also tracks how surrounding societies influenced their rise and responded to their actions. Many of the biographical stories end in public executions, mainly by fire, not surprisingly for a book about thinkers labelled "heretics" by incumbent powers. Cahill impressively ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lot of reviews have point out how in this book Cahill doesn't attempt hide his biases or prejudices, an observation with which I concur. I grant that no historical book can be written entirely free of the author's prejudice, which is fine; an author is free to have a contrary interpretation of the facts and his own opinions.

However, Cahill not so infrequently caricatures his figures as paragons of virtue or monsters (Oh, those awful Jesuits!), goes out of his way to write tangents that
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Thomas Cahill has written a book on the transition from the middle ages to the early modern period Aka The Renaissance and Reformation. This fruitful age in Europe in the wake of the black plague saw the exploration of the Americas, the printing revolution, the reformation and counter-reformation. I like a lot of people was initially interested in this period for its art both the Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance. The book supplies many of the highlights of the arts in this ...more
Sep 04, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've loved Thomas Cahill's series of history books, The Hinges of History, since I read the first one, How the Irish Saved Civilization, in high school. Unaccountably, this penultimate volume is not his best work. The topic of the Reformation and the Renaissance is just so large that the books becomes mostly a recounting of interesting bits and pieces from that time. He sometimes is able to focus on a particular argument or perspective- like how religion and nationalism interacted, or Luther's ...more
Derek Green
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. The sixth installment of Cahill's Hinges of History series provides a brilliant summary of how the Renaissance and Reformation have helped to shape our modern western world. I have only read a galley copy, so I am looking forward to when the book is published and I can admire the (I assume colour) plates of Renaissance art.
Sheppard  Hobgood
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a child I endured three years in a Lutheran Parochial school. Nary a morning passed without mention of our great protestant hero. Fascinating read and now I know the rest of the story. Luther suffered from more demons than were cast into several thousand swine in a popular new testament story. The demons were the seeds of his greatness.
Laura Jean
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went through this book slowly. I was very enjoyable as all of the books I've read in this series are. This one lent itself to nibbling as each chapter was broken into smaller sections. Quite a witty look at many of the main players leading up to and during the Reformation.
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book, highly engrossing. Learned a lot!
Eric Peterson
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another masterful work of synthesis from Thomas Cahill.
Perhaps because I consider myself a fan of Prof. Thomas Cahill, and someone who learned from and enjoyed his last book, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History); I am making a point of my disappointment with Heretics and Heroes. It is not a bad book, it is not an exemplar of what Cahill can do. In some sections you can almost watch as he hits the coast button and indulges himself in soft peddling things like the Spanish Inquisition and taking sides ...more
May 30, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I dont know what happened to Thomas Cahill. The first books in this series, all five of them, seemed to be very good (but now knowing the authors willingness to proselytize his Liberal politics I wonder about those). After the release of those books perhaps some of his Liberal friends questioned his politics for, in Heretics and Heroes, Cahill is compelled to establish his Liberal bone-fides. Make no mistake, Heretics and Heroes is a political book, you know, like those written by Ann Coulter ...more
Arthur O'dell
Ive read most of Thomas Cahills hinges of history series, and this is the weakest entry in the series so far. The best is still How the Irish Saved Civilization, though Mysteries of the Middle Ages is a close second.

It isnt a bad book by any stretch, but it isnt the solid introduction to the period I hoped it would be.


1. Cahill is a very entertaining and very readable writer. Hes engaging and fun rather than dry and stuffy.

2. Cahill is very good at simplifying complex concepts and
Oct 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Hinges of History series has been one of my favorites since the first volume "How the Irish Saved Civilization" was given to me as a gift back in 1995. Since then, I've eagerly awaited a chance to dive into each new volume in the series. When Knopf Doubleday offered me a chance to review this one, I didn't hesitate to accept. I've had the galley since July, and have taken my time reading it, allowing Cahill's ideas and insights to bubble up, take form, and then slide into place in my world ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heretics and Heroes completes my journey of the books currently published in Cahills Hinges of History series. In this book, Cahill discusses the different aspects of the Renaissance and Reformation. The book is short, so he just hits the highlights: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Martin Luther, and a few others. For a Roman Catholic, Cahill does not pull his punches against the excesses of the church at the time of the Reformation, of which there were many. However, true to his roots, Cahill also ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
The 6th in a "Hinges of History" series by Cahill, he examines the connections and parallel developments of the Renaissance and the Reformation in "Heretics and Heroes." As history books go, the book is well-written, and not overly dry to read; something I consider a feat considering the period of history being covered. With so many varied actors and stages throughout this period of history, its easy to get overwhelmed and lost. Cahill does a decent job of navigating that for his readers.

Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading Cahill. This book was my most challenging because it introduced so many people, actually too many. I got bogged down when reading the third, fourth, and fifth artist or churchman as an example of a particular mindset, two would have been enough for me.

Most important point that Cahill made was: Luther's reforms unleashed forces that ended the Middle Ages and ushered in the modern era.
Having said that, Cahill's indepth look at the Reformation, and so much Renaissance history was
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Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in Queens and the Bronx, Cahill was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy in 1964, and a pontifical degree in philosophy in ...more

Other books in the series

The Hinges of History (6 books)
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe 
  • The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels
  • Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe

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