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A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age

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Overview

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 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 rebirth-the dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as ...

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A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age

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Overview

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 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 rebirth-the dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as some of its most spectacular villains- the Renaissance.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316545563
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 6/1/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 30,142
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William Manchester was a hugely successful popular historian and biographer whose books include The Last Lion, Volumes 1 and 2, Goodbye Darkness, A World Lit Only by Fire, The Glory and the Dream, The Arms of Krupp, American Caesar, The Death of the President, and assorted works of journalism.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 59 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(18)

4 Star

(12)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2008

    Highly readable!

    Manchester's work in this volume is, admittedly, not scholarly in the usual sense of the term. That being said, this book is hard to put down. Manchester's style is engaging and he paints such a picture of medieval times that, upon reading him, one feels as if he has emerged from a brief sojourn in the era.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2007

    Interesting, but unreliable

    It's well-written and interesting enough to read if you're into scandals and Medieval gossip. I read it like a history book at first, so I was shocked by some of the anecdotes Manchester presents as factual history. I'm glad I double-checked and did my research because much of what's here isn't as widely accepted by historians as the author suggests. Personally, I had a lot of trouble with this because I like getting my facts straight, and I didn't enjoy the feeling afterwards that I had believed a lot of scholarly tall tales.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    If you need to know what happened in Europe in the Middle ages, this is the book.

    I originally came across this book due to a course in Medieval European History I took in College. I quickly fell in love.
    One of the few non-fiction books I can read more than once, William Manchester's "A World Lit Only By Fire" is a tour de force of history outlining the great events, ideas, and people that brought Europe through the "Dark Ages" into the renaissance.
    What makes it a great book is it's readability. I have given it as a gift to several friends, none of whom have backgrounds in history, and all have enjoyed it- and most have gone on to delve into more specific themes Manchester touches on.
    Manchester knows his history- and knows how to write about history in a way that not only teaches, but creates enjoyment in the learning.
    I'd love to meet him, to say "Thank you."

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2008

    One of My Favorite Books EVER

    Manchester won me over with his gentle, flowing narrative about the Middle Ages. All the information was there, and so was the warmth and humanity of Manchester.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2003

    Sex, Politics and Religion

    I am a Sophmore who was assigned this book for summer reading for my AP Euro Hitory course. This is definetly not a book that I would have been inclined to pick up on my own, but it was worth it. Although I am not Christian, I did want to learn more about the orgin of the traditions that are so widely practiced in todays society; this book help a lot! The paganistic, self-destructive celebrations of the polytheists were transformed into so-called 'Holy' celebrations of Christ's (peace be upon him) birth, when no one new the year of his birth, much less the exact month or day. Nevertheless the papacy, with its pervertedness, made it such a renown tradition that it is still practiced today in the new millenium! Now I look at the Renaissance as though it was part of the Medieval tumult, and i have an inhanced understanding of all of the heretical and 'holy' insidences. This is an amazing book for only those with an opened mind, not for the immature who call it 'sacrilegious'. It is truth, and William Manchester, though critisized, had to have some guts inorder to write with such candor and make a NATIONAL BESTSELLER out of it. For all who seek truth, regardless of their faith, should read this book. And even if one doesnt wish to seek truth, it is a good topic for conversation. HAVE FUN WITH IT!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2002

    You'll Never Complain Again

    THE book to really appreciate the history of the world - especially the Western world. I never understood what the term "dark ages" meant, until this book, which described how the sack of Rome ensured nothing would change for a thousand years. When you imagine a life where you didn't live past 30, where horrible death was an everyday occurrence, where there was no reasoning with the absolute power of the Catholic church....you'll never complain about a damn thing again.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2002

    A Superb Book

    'Shackled in ignorance, disciplined by fear, sheathed in supestition....' This book discusses the blindness and ignorance of post-Roman Europe. After the collapse of the Roman Europe by barbarians, small clans, and tribes, all technological advancements were destroyed. This book 'shows' the degradation of Eurpean sophistication. By taking a small fleet around the world, the remaining crew of Magellan showed that the land and sea beyond their exploration should be marked on maps rather than calendars. It also 'shows' the barbarism, viciousness, and all too powerful pope. At a time of illiteracy, Catholicism was the new Empire. I read about things I couldn't concieve. It is by far my favorite book. For anyone who wants to learn more. This is a must!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2001

    Fun, but academically dodgy

    I first read this book over four years ago. I fell for the atmosphere, at once romantic, exotic and outrageously tabloid. It was in fact one of the things that made me decide on a degree in medieval history. Now, re-reading it after university, I can see from a different perspective how seductive a book it is. As much as I long for time travel by print, these sorts of imaginings can in the end be little more than historical fiction. Manchester's bibliography is heavily dependent on pre-WWII works. Medieval studies have changed hugely since these were written, and more recent theories and discoveries (and most importantly, critiques of some of his sources) are unrepresented. And as for the lack of footnotes, aaargh! the frustration! Basically, this book seems to be universally slated by medivalists, and adored by mainstream press reviewers and non-academic readers. It's very enjoyable, but should be taken with at least a cellar of salt.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2007

    riveting overview of the period

    While I'll bow to experts in other reviews who question Manchester's sources and conclusions, I thought this was a wonderful read (perhaps because I read it voluntarily, rather than for ap history.)

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2002

    Great Book!

    I had to read the first chapter for Summer Reading for my AP European History class. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to buy the entire book to read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    Ehhhh.... Well, the book seems to appeal to a lot of AP Euro te

    Ehhhh.... Well, the book seems to appeal to a lot of AP Euro teachers who have bought into the new theory that students
    can only enjoy history if it involves sex and scandal, the book perpetuates the Burckhardt's thesis of the 1800s, committing a major crime of historiography--not coming up with an original thesis. In this case, Manchester's thesis is nothing happened during the Middle Ages--blah blah blah. After reading, I couldn't believe historians still believe the Middle Ages was a time when Europe went to sleep and suddenly woke up in 1400 when it was miraculously saved by Florence, Venice, and Rome--thank god! Readers should be aware that most of Manchester's criticisms of the scandalous catholic church were going on during the Renaissance--for example the Borgias and Pope Alexander. The most hilarious conclusion of Manchester is that he says nothing happened during the Middle Ages, while he himself is a university professor. The irony here is that modern universities were invented during the middle ages--Paris, Oxford, Salerno, Bologna, etc. Where would Manchester be if nothing happened during the Middle Ages. For a more accurate view of the Middle Ages although less entertaining (uh oh no sex so students aren't allowed to like it) would be John Freely's "Before Galileo."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2011

    Informative, but not Chronological

    This book was very informative and the writing style was okay, but what really got me was that it skipped around A LOT. Manchester went from one time period to another in the blink of an eye. You may be okay reading that, but just made it confusing for me. He seemed to just write down whatever popped into his head.

    And for those of you who may be wondering, this book was originally supposed to be about Magellan. The author ended up writing this book because he had to do so much research on the time period when writing his Magellan book that he figured he'd just write the whole thing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fun to read, but not always accurate

    William Manchester is Professor of History Emeritus at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Over the years he has written many popular works on history; this is his contribution to the medieval period.

    Manchester's particular interest and area of expertise is the life and accomplishments of Ferdinand Magellan. This book sets up the picture of Magellan's world, beginning with the Dark Ages and moving to the beginning of the sixteenth century. He sees in Magellan a symbolic figure-the personification of the end of the medieval mind and the beginning of the modern age. The last major section of the book is about Magellan himself.

    After discussing the medieval mind in general, Manchester proceeds to show how their world progressed and then came to an end. He traces the major events in Europe over a five hundred-year period. He conceives of the medieval mind as being superstitious, subject to the authority of the church, and full of erroneous ideas. One notes throughout the book a pronounced dislike of religion, especially of Christianity and the institutional church. His sharpest barbs are reserved for popes and Protestant reformers. With the coming of the scientific age, he sees the intellectual demise of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Religion is relegated to ethical values and encouraging legends. It is disappointing to see how he ignores the fact that Christianity, and Protestant Christianity in particular, spurred the modern scientific method.

    Manchester admits that he depends almost exclusively on secondary sources. This is a major weakness of the book. While writing in my own field (Reformed theology) Manchester betrays an abysmal ignorance of Calvin's ideas and positions and history, accepting the most common stereotypes. He gives a very unbalanced picture of Calvin, and I think of Luther as well.

    I would rate this book as two stars, except that his excellent discussion of Magellan's life, adventures, and significance raises it up in my opinion to three stars.

    This book is written for a popular audience, and one can see while reading it that he is used to college students. He writes in a quick, racy style that is easy to read and often entertaining. He often writes about sexual topics, more often it seems than called for and giving more detailed information than necessary; but then maybe this was necessary in his lectures to keep his college students listening.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2008

    Kept My Attention..AP Euro book

    I'm in AP Euro and read it for summer assignment. It kept my attention and thats most important. I'm no historian so I don't know about the facts, all I know is it could have been way more boring

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2006

    AP European History - sdd

    A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester is a history book that explains events that have happened leading up to Magellan¿s voyage. The books talks about the impacts of some major popes for example Pope Alexander VI. A World Lit Only by Fire touches on corruption, incest, and mutiny causing certain outstanding citizens to be killed. Pope Alexander VI was one of the most corrupt popes of them all. He had Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1492) was killed for what he believed in. Because of the fact that Savonarola was killed for speaking out against the pope, people started to learn the lesson that no matter what you do, do not speak out against your pope. Savonarola said that the papal palace ¿sits upon the throne of Solomon and signal to the passersby. Whoever can pay enters and does what he wishes.¿ (p. 43) This means that whatever the pope wanted, the people had to do, and you do not want to irritate the pope by not doing what he asked. During the regain of and after Alexander VI, the priests were taking money for absolution. For example, ¿suppose a youth slipped into his mother¿s bed and spent his seed inside her. If that boy put the right coins in the pontiff¿s bowl, `the Holy Father has the power in heaven and earth to forgive that sin, and he forgives it, God must do so also.¿ . . . . . . . `As soon as the coin rings in the bowl, the soul for whom it is paid will fly out of purgatory and straight to heaven.¿¿ The churches corruption was much worse than the corruption of just the pope. The church just having sins forgiven by money, was telling the people that no matter what a sinner did, he could pay to get into heaven. You could murder and for the right about of money you were forgiven. Not actually having to ask for forgiven lead to incest not only among the people but among popes themselves. In the Vatican during the reign of Alexander VI, incest was a major part of the Borgia family. The sexual relations going on between not only the pope and his daughter but also Lucrezia and her brother, in turn she became pregnant. This pregnancy came from incest. Now days, people know that incest cause mental handicaps. Not knowing much about what happened to Lucrezia¿s bastard son, that only assumption left to make is that the was not right in the head. The saying is ¿incest breeds insanity.¿ This could have been exactly what happened. The pope and his son, Cesare, not having to ask for forgiveness for the death of Juan, the son and brother, and the pregnancy of Lucrezia, allowed them both to keep killing and impregnating other people. Already known that Juan, Cesare, and Lucrezia are bastard children, the pope must have paid his way for forgiveness. The incest of people during this time, and the corruption of the church and papacy lead to a mutiny aboard Magellan¿s ship. A mutiny among Magellan¿s crew was the product of Magellan being a mislead leader but also from the crews lack of faith in religion and also in lack of faith for Magellan himself. Magellan¿s crew only asked for respect for their higher birth and treated better at his hands. Magellan was a good leader but every unaware of the way he was treating his men, although he knew a mutiny was expected, he did not actually think his crew would rebel. Magellan being unaware of the warning the men gave him and his own gut instinct caused the deaths of many people. Some of them his closest companions such as, ¿Mesqita¿s officer, awakening by the tumult, demanded explanation, and one of them, the ship¿s master. Juan de Elorriga, roughly challenged the mutineers . . . . . . . the officer fell to the deck mortally wounded.¿ (p. 257) this showed that the men had no faith in Magellan, or faith that he would accept their demands. By killing men at sea, they showed they have no faith in the moral or virtues set forth to them by God and Jesus. I really thought this book was more for adults then young adults. It had a level of disgusting that most young adults do not want

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2006

    BORING!

    i had to read this book for my ap euro class and it was a drag. It is honestly one of the most boring books i have ever read. I suggest people not to read this book..unless you just want to be bored. If your looking for a book to read for pleasure keep on looking...

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2003

    Another foolish and ignorant assault on the Middle Ages

    The last thing that the ignorant masses need is a book like this one, one which gratifies their belief in their own moral superiority to the people of the Middle Ages. Being a graduate student of medieval history, I know better than to rely on such bigotrous trash as this. If you truly wish to understand the Middle Ages, read: Morris Bishop's 'The Middle Ages', Regine Pernoud's 'Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths', Norman Cantor's 'The Civilization of the Middle Ages', and any PRIMARY source documents you can find on the period. You might also consider the VHS version of David Macaulay's 'Cathedral'. These will give one a far fairer picture of this horribly maligned era.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2003

    STAY AWAY!!!

    I had to read this book for summer reading for my AP Euro class. This had to be the most boring, dull, and contradictory book I've personally read. It is a fact, however, that Manchester is developing Alzheimer¿s/going senile and is VERY apparant in this book. For example, in the last section, he goes from talking about Magellan, to Christopher Coloumbus, to another explorer, to Magellan, and back and forth! This man is TOTALLY incapable of writing one thoughtful sentence! I'm not even sure what he intended this book to be about, since there's so many different topics. First, I've heard that he tried to write this as a biography about Magellan. I've also heard that this was supposed to be a preface to another book. We may never know. But what I do know is you shouldn't read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2002

    Boring and Perverted

    I was required to read this book for my freshman world history class. It is honestly the most boring book I have ever read. No offense to the people who like this book, but it is far from my level of reading. Half of the book is talking about sex and the other half is very inaccurate.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2001

    Where are the footnotes?

    This is a highly readable account of the transition from the age of faith to the age of reason. Although I expect that Manchester is an accurate and careful researcher, I would feel more comfortable if the source of the specific statistics and quotations were documented. Footnotes or endnotes would add immeasurably to the strength of this work.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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