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.
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.