"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 ...
"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 villans--the Renaissance"--Cover, p. 4.
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Was looking forward to a good read concerning an era that is not well known. Instead I got a bunch of nonsense.
Manchester's reputation as a researcher and writer takes a big hit in the groin with this book. His research is sloppy, his characterization of historical figures is profoundly soap operatic and his twisting of events and people is breathtaking.
He obviously has a large axe to grind. It seems determined to portray anyone and everything about Medieval Europe as perverts and reprobates. He never does reveal why he is so obsessed, but, something about this era gives him an atomic wedgie.
Manchester is totally without any sense of historiography concerning the Medieval era.
All in all a book on the order of "Chariots of the Gods" in its twisting of real world people and events. Personally, am considering burning my copy rather than inflict it upon an innocent soul at the Goodwill.
Dec 12, 2009
Fire is dim overall but burns brightly in spots
All things considered, "A World Lit Only by Fire" is not William Manchester's best book. Not by a long shot.
Those who claim there's nothing new here are right. On the other hand, much of what Manchester tells here is still not well-known to the religious laity nor even to the proverbial "man on the street". My own guess is that at least 95 percent of the world's Lutherans are totally ignorant of the fact that Martin Luther was as crazy as a crap-house mouse. And if Catholics are more worldly (They seem so to me.), that's not because the Roman church makes a practice of airing its spotted shorts in Vatican Square on Easter Sunday.
Those who claim Manchester shows prejudice in this book are right. But that in itself is nothing new. I cannot speak of his earlier work -- "The Arms of Krupp," the Churchill trilogy, etc. -- because I have not read it. But those like me who've read Manchester's war memoir, "Goodbye, Darkness," have seen that side of him before.
My experience is that Manchester's prejudices are shared among the rest of those whom Tom Brokaw was pleased to call "The Greatest Generation." But Brokaw's career in journalism displays both a narrow perception and an almost total lack of insight. So it should come as no surprise that a hard look at the World War II generation reveals that they were just ordinary people. Like all other twentieth-century Americans, they were a generation systematically lied to as children and young adults. Hence they went to war with set of beliefs that the reality of war utterly destroyed.
Summing up, I think of the World War II generation more realistically than foolish Mr. Brokaw: They were not the greatest. Instead they were the generation that dismantled Fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan -- and then brought it home for the rest of us to enjoy. . . .
But that's another story, isn't it?
So "A World Lit Only by Fire" is not great history by anybody's standards. Even so, I came away from the experience knowing much more about Martin Luther than I'd ever known before. I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on Magellan, and I'm grateful to Manchester for those two gifts -- which only cost me $22.95 (or thereabouts).
My reading also taught me that Manchester was a fine writer. If I ever exhaust my list of things to read before I die, I'll pick up "The Arms of Krupp" and the Churchill trilogy and some of that other stuff and read every word before I throw it on the fire. I expect the smoke from such a blaze will flavor my tea nicely.
Feb 8, 2008
After reading the History of Christianity (a very deep and cumbersome view of Christianity in detail), I was delighted to find A World Lit Only By Fire. This book touches on all of the important aspects of the Dark Ages and the time of Enlightenment - causes, thinking of the time, events, etc. - but never feels heavy or cumbersome. I enjoyed every chapter.
Publishers Weekly, 1993-05-03 Manchester's marvelously vivid popular history humanizes the tumultuous span from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance. A one-week PW bestseller in cloth. Illustrations. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly, 1992-04-27 Using only secondary sources, Manchester plunges readers into the medieval mind-set in a captivating, marvelously vivid popular history that humanizes the tumultuous span from the Dark Ages to the dawn of the Renaissance. He delineates an age when invisible spirits infested the air, when tolerance was seen as treachery and ``a mafia of profane popes desecrated Christianity.'' Besides re-creating the arduous lives of ordinary people, the Wesleyan professor of history peoples his tapestry with such figures as Leonardo, Machiavelli, Lucrezia Borgia, Erasmus, Luther, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Manchester ( The Arms of Krupp ) devotes much attention to Magellan, whose globe-straddling voyage shattered Christendom's implicit belief in Europe as the center of the universe. His portrayal of the Middle Ages as a time when the strong and the shrewd flourished, while the imaginative, the cerebral and the unfortunate suffered, rings true. Illustrations. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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