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Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age by William Manchester. Specifically it briefly addresses Manchester's three main theses and analyze some part of this book in depth. It contains a critical book review that acknowledges the three main theses and addresses one of the theses, or a clearly defined theme, directly. The author's three main theses in the book were these: First, writer William Manchester wanted to show the reader what it was like to really live in medieval times. He wanted them to understand the smells, experiences, home life, and even filth and violence that filled the times. Second, he wanted to illustrate to the reader how the Middle Ages were entirely necessary for the Renaissance to occur, and finally, he hoped to show the reader how important Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, was to the time, the people, and the very fabric of their lives. The author actually included several other theses for writing his book, including his seeming obsession with Magellan, but these mentioned above are the main three, and the main threads that held the book together both in style and in content.
Author Manchester proved his theses throughout the book, while making the book interesting, and even compelling to the reader. The reader learned about how the everyday people of medieval times lived, worked, and played, how they worshiped, and what hardships they had to deal with on a daily basis. He told stories that sounded like fiction but were really true, and he made his short book readable with these stories and his own analysis of events that gave great detail and pique the reader's interest to learn more about the Middle Ages and the people who lived during this time. That is the true measure of a good historian, they draw the reader in, give them facts and detail, but most of all they make them want to know more about a person, an age, or a document, and Manchester was a good historian.
The book was incredibly detailed, with small stories about little particulars that clearly show he understood what he was writing about with precision and great knowledge. His notes and acknowledgements illustrated his vast research into this book, and also showed there was an abundance of literature on this subject. Manchester's book was different, however. Many historians "told" their readers about the people, the places, the events, and the times that made up history. Manchester, on the other hand, literally "showed" the reader period details that gave the reader a much greater understanding of what happened during the Middle Ages. It showed how people lived, worked, ate, drank, worshiped, and fought, and virtually made the time come alive almost as much as a film would.
One of Manchester's main theses was to illustrate to the reader how people lived during the Middle Ages. To illustrate this thesis to the reader he discussed the size of the cities and towns, and compared them with modern-sized cities such as Reno, Nevada or Eugene, Oregon. This technique put the size and population of old cities into a context the reader could totally understand and evaluate. As the differences between old cities and modern cities became increasingly clear, the old cities began to come alive for the reader, and really made sense, both in the mind and even as a very real picture. The reader could picture these cities, and began to understand the people that populated them, which is just what Manchester was attempting to portray. Using Manchester's guidance, the reader began to visualize the cities full of small, dirty and cluttered houses stuffed close together, surrounded by a defensive wall with sentries on top, and all centered on a large, imposing stone cathedral that was literally the center of life in the city. The book simply set the stage for the reader to explore their own images in their minds.
One of the reasons Manchester's writing was so interesting was because of his great attention to detail. His research turned up tidbits such as, "The twisting streets were as narrow as the breadth of a man's shoulders, and pedestrians bore bruises from collisions with one another. There was no paving; shops opened directly on the streets, which were filthy; excrement, urine, and offal were simply flung out windows" (Manchester 48). The reader only had to close their eyes to imagine the awful stench of the cites, and it seemed the people were so used to it; they were simply indifferent to the smell, the filth, and the confusion. It was quite easy to see why there were so many diseases and plagues during the Middle Ages. The people lived in filth right alongside their animals and they died in it, too. It was details like this that promoted his thesis of showing the reader how people really lived, but it also helped place the reader right in the middle of the time, making it more real, more compelling, and more helpful in understanding the real history of life.
Manchester's details also played another important part in his book and in proving his theses. His details showed how the people lived and worked, but they also showed the progression of the Middle Ages, and what changes occurred to lead up to the Renaissance, which was another one of his theses. He showed the merchant class growing, the grand order of the knights dying out, and the people changing from an agrarian society to a more urban society, which all helped the Renaissance develop and flower. In fact, the book carefully led up to the flowering of the Renaissance by allowing the reader to imagine how it would be if they were transported back in time to the Middle Ages. They saw the change in people as they learned to stand up and demand change. They saw the way people finally were encouraged to think and grow, and how inventions such as the printing press encouraged learning and education.
He gave the reader the details they needed to understand how hard life was, but also illustrated just how innovative thought and growth was just beginning, and was certainly not the order of everyday life. In the early Middle Ages, most people were too worried about simply living to give rise to any kind of philosophical growth or thought. As the merchant class grew more prominent, and trade began to grow because of continued exploration by people such as Magellan, then the world got a little smaller, some people began to prosper more, and the entire way of life began to shift. It was certainly gradual, and much of Europe was still steeped in agriculture, but the shift had began that would turn some of Europe's cities into the very foundation of Renaissance culture, art, thought, and innovation.
As he wrote, Manchester also gave the readers details about life and death during the Middle Ages. For example, he noted, "The toll at childbirth was appalling. A young girl's life expectancy was twenty-four. On her wedding day, traditionally, her mother gave her a piece of fine cloth which could be made into a frock. Six or seven years later it would become her shroud" (55). Another writer might have left the sentence with "life expectancy was twenty-four." This gave information to the reader and made them understand just how amazingly difficult life was. However, Manchester took it one step further and noted that a girl's wedding gown and burial shroud was often the same garment. This was quite difficult to read, simply because it showed the reader in very fine detail just what a horribly demanding life these people had to live. They had no way to avoid it. Most of them had little leisure time, lived in the most squalid of conditions, and had short, hard lives that gave them little pleasure or happiness. It seemed like a terrible time to be alive, and would not be a place the reader would probably want to go back to if they could.
It was a hard time to live, and Manchester made absolutely sure the reader totally understood how hard it was. This allowed the reader to put themselves in the place of a medieval person, and decide just how they would have coped with such a difficult life. It also made the reader aware of how far the world has come from the Middle Ages in a relatively short amount of time, and how much was learned from this time that helped to continue growth and transformation and leave the hardships of this time far behind.
The most pervasive theme running through the book was religion and Christianity. This especially related to the Catholic Church, which dominated Europe at the time. Catholicism was present in the cathedrals in each city, in the government, and in the lives of most all of the people. Those that were not Catholic, such as Moors or Jews, were consistently banished, burned, or…[continue]
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