A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester

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“A World Lit Only By Fire” by William Manchester is about an era that spans the Medieval & the Renaissance or the Middle Ages.  William Manchester’s work depicts a period characterized by painful transition to growth as experienced in the Renaissance.  

The period is littered with tales of chivalry at the same time brutality and barbaric acts such as trial by ordeal.  The book is set at the end of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance estimated to be from 400 -1500 AD

Christian leaders and the rulers wrongfully interpret the Christian dogmas which led to much of the confusion and problems in their times.  The rulers were seen as greedy and lawless. People from the lower class were also depicted as ignorant, very poor, unhealthy sometimes savage. 

Land grabbing was the order of the day as warlords attacked each other to acquire more lands. Cruel executions were also rampant such as burning at the stake, slash, beheadings and other gory and extreme measures were adopted.  Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolus Copernicus, Sir Thomas Moore, Erasmus all met untimely deaths around this period.

“A World Lit Only By Fire” is an absorbing and fascinating read. Manchester managed to deviate from the traditional way of presenting history which is narrating events in a chronological order, that is, year after year after year until the period covered is fully covered. 

Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire” is done differently. He does not utilize the chronological order in his writing. He starts with one aspect of the Medieval period and traces its way back in time and forward until the topic is exhausted. It would have made the book utterly confusing if Manchester was not able to effectively combine and associate one event from the other. 

Manchester was able to present a fascinating tale of the close association of the seemingly differing aspects of the Medieval era.  He himself pointed this out in the beginning of his book “each event [leads]inexorably to another, then another…” (pg. XV).

Manchester expresses his ideas in a clear and easy manner.  He is also able to express his personal views on history without getting across as vicious.  He may have his biases but he remains objective in presenting the facts all throughout.  He has the ability to stick to details religiously which could be a factor in making his book a cut above the rest of history books.

For those who take pleasure in learning about Europe particularly the Middle Ages, this book comes highly recommended.


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