Thursday, January 28, 2010

Favorites from the past

A World Lit Only by Fire
by William Manchester

Every Friday, Alyce At Home With Books features this meme inviting us to look back at a favorite book from the past.  Since this week, I'll be doing an Unfinished Friday post, I'm posting this one today while the memory is fresh like the snowflakes falling quietly outside.  It's amazing how the smallest things can trigger our memories.

This week's memory was triggered by a scene in a Louise Penny book I's reading: The Fatal Grace where Inspector Gamage walks into a room lit by oil lamps because a huge blizzard had knocked out the power.  He stopped and said to himself "...a world lit only by fire."  Instantly I remembered this book which I read at least ten years ago.  It was published in 1993, and it's going back on my re-read pile.  I don't remember details, but I do remember I closed it and said 'that was a good book!'  Here's how it's described on the Amazon site:

It speaks to the failure of medieval Europe, writes popular historian William Manchester, that "in the year 1500, after a thousand years of neglect, the roads built by the Romans were still the best on the continent." European powers were so absorbed in destroying each other and in suppressing peasant revolts and religious reform that they never quite got around to realizing the possibilities of contemporary innovations in public health, civil engineering, and other peaceful pursuits. Instead, they waged war in faraway lands, created and lost fortunes, and squandered millions of lives. For all the wastefulness of medieval societies, however, Manchester notes, the era created the foundation for the extraordinary creative explosion of the Renaissance. Drawing on a cast of characters numbering in the hundreds, Manchester does a solid job of reconstructing the medieval world, although some scholars may disagree with his interpretations.
Later, when Thomas Cahill started his Hinges of History series, I found my positive reaction to Manchester laid a great foundation for reading Cahill.  And here, in Maine in the winter, we quite often have short periods of time when the world is truly 'lit only by fire.'  It's magnificent.

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds like it would be very good! I haven't read a lot of medieval lit, and this sounds like one that would give a nice full picture of what life was like. The cast of characters in the hundreds sounds like it might be hard to keep up with though.


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