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

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

3.3 63
by William Manchester
     
 

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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

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316545563
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
06/01/1993
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
60,499
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.87(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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A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind & the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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."
Peteman1 More than 1 year ago
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."
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'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!
DWQ More than 1 year ago
I have serious concerns about ANY teacher who requires their students young adult students to read this thinly veiled pornography for class as there is little historical fact. It jumps around and has little point to it. The author clearly was more intent on besmirching the Catholic Church than presenting a substantial scholarly work. I would preferred to have given this zero stars but that is not an option.
Lauren_Richards More than 1 year ago
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.
johnbattle More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
William Manchester fleshes out several events of European history, all of which left the world permanently changed. The book describes a voyage of discovery, the moral crisis of a great institution and the ruthless use of power over all subjects of medieval authority. A great story written by a great story teller.
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For the most part, well written and entertaining. However: his section on the Borgia family is completely wrong. If you are interested in that family, please look into Meyers' recent book on the Borgias. 
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