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

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 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: 73,595
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.87(d)

About 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. 83 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.
JFCooper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the worst history I have ever read. Manchester indulges in unsupported conclusions, fails to document his sources, and commits the Historian's cardinal sin. He judges the past based on present-day values.This is an excellent example of how NOT to write history.
Joanne53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book accomplished what it set out to do; it made me stop and think about what it would be like to live with no concept of time, to suspect all change, to have no identifiable last name, or to live in a tiny hamlet that also had no name. An easy, thought provoking and entertaining read. Plus now I know that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
kforester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This work is less comprehensive and more sensational than Cantor's "The Civilization of the Middle Ages" but it is a hell of a lot more fun to read. The author dwells on the naughty tabloid details of medieval society, which is highly entertaining. If you're looking for a thorough historical resource, this is not it. If you just want to learn some interesting and juicy tidbits, pick this up.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My daughter brought this book to my attention about 10 years ago. "WHAT?!? You haven't read this?!? Here!" with a forceful thrust, causing the book to thump into my chest rather painfully. (The bruises have since healed.) Since that copy, I have given to others eleven more; I seem to be able to keep the book for about six months before someone just *has* to read it and *now*, so out it goes again. Weeks go by, and I fretfully search the used bookeries for another copy; always one shows up, usually in very good to unread condition (philistines! Imagine having this book and not reading it!), and spend the buck or so to bring it home *for the last time* as I will keep *this* one forever.Uh-huh. As we see, that resolve is doomed. I'm sending this one to that soldier who wanted history books. He'll like this one, I bet!It's a leap of imagination that I feel 21st-century people have small success at making, but the time when the world was lit only by fire didn't end until late in the 19th century. No flipping switches for instant light. No reading lamp that just needs a little flick to provide bright, shadowless (unless you sited it in a funny place) light for as long as you like. No street illumination worth a damn.A world of shadows. A world of unseen details. A world that gave us fabulous artistic achievements, amazing literary joys, and most of our modern ideas about religion, which I for one could do without.Manchester makes this world shimmer into focus, bronze-gold candleflame coloring each and every idea, achievement, material object he describes. We really see what he's talking about through their eyes, if we possess even a hint of imagination.I love this book, and I think everyone in the least bit interested in history should read it because it's beautifully written and conceived. It's a pleasure to pass it on to another initiate. I hope he falls in love the way I did. Please try it. It's worth your time to sink without a ripple into a world long vanished.
rvolenti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've seen this book all over the book stores and on school reading lists. Therefore, I thought it must be a great history book. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I didn't like his writing style, his chapter organization, or the focus of the book. I didn't feel like I learned anything; I didn't always trust his "facts." I felt that sometimes he passed off a version of the events as THE one and only truth. He also focused more on sexuality and promiscuity than I felt necessary. He seemed to bring it up without a larger point or reason. There are much better historical books out there.
guenievre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I could give this book 0 stars, I would - I can't bring myself to get rid of it, because someone else might pick it up and think it was accurate.AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
ben_h on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Manchester says at the beginning that this isn't an academic book, and he's not kidding. There are no references at all, so there's no telling which bits of information are supported by evidence and which are just pure speculation. Oddly, there are occasional direct quotes, but unattributed. It's an interesting idea, and a great title, but I found reading this to be mostly frustrating.
staffordcastle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I could give this book less than half a star, I would. It is extremely popular, and has had many re-printings, probably because it is very readable. However, the author is not an expert on the period (his specialization is early 20th c, J.F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill & H.L. Mencken), he doesn't like the period, but he has a morbid fascination with it. Inaccuracies abound; the author makes many errors of fact, assumptions, and sweeping generalizations. in fact, he is fairly clueless about the period. He says in the first paragraph of the introduction that he only used secondary sources; this is a major defect.One example: Quoting Holinshed, who spoke of "the filthie sin of lechery and fornication, with abominable adulteries, speciallie in the king," Manchester decides this must apply to Edward VI, that poor invalid, governor-ridden boy who probably was never alone even in the loo, and certainly never had the opportunity for lechery! 'Nuff said.