Heretics and Heroes (Hinges of History #6)

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence, and Depravity in an Age of Beauty

The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of BeautyThe Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

The Renaissance is always seen by popular culture as the reestablishment of learning and art after the lull of the Dark and Middle Ages, whether this correct or not it is the view Alexander Lee takes on the outset of his book “The Ugly Renaissance.”  Lee focuses on exposing the dark underbelly of the Renaissance period hidden behind the veneer of the wondrous art that we only view today.

Lee uses the lives of various artists and the work they did to illustrate the various facets of the ugly Renaissance from the vast poverty and inequality to sex and scandals, of corrupt bankers to murderous warlords patronizing fabulous works of art along side irreligious popes and priests who hide their scandalous ways by showing the grandiose moments in church history whether based on fact or fiction, and how art was used to further bigotry and prejudice of any race or culture not white, Christian, and European.

The moments in history that Lee highlights at first seems to show the greatness of popular view of the Renaissance, but then Lee shows that all is not what it seems in the highlighted moments.  While everything Lee brings forth backs up his assertions these moments aren’t exactly new to those interested in history, which unfortunately makes “The Ugly Renaissance” a rehashing of history that many already know to be true.  While Lee can be given credit for attempting to inform the wider public of what also happened during the Renaissance besides the masterpieces of da Vinci and Michelangelo, his prose is dull that even I had to stop myself from zoning out several times.

The history of the Renaissance world, beyond the artistic and literary masterpieces most remember, for the popular crowd is a laudable effort by Lee.  However the tone of the overall book and the dull prose, undermine the overall produce for students of history that want to go beyond “popular” history.  So while this book has good information, be aware of the prose and tone before you read.

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English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the Tudors

English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the TudorsEnglish Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the Tudors by Christopher Haigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Christopher Haigh’s book, English Reformations, begins by showing that before 1530 there was no strong undercurrent for the Protestant Reformation in England in fact the exact opposite was true as Catholic England was going strong. Unlike the general historical belief that once Henry VIII broke with Rome a Protestant England would be the result, Haigh shows it was never the case especially when documenting the reign of Mary I when the majority of the English welcomed a return to the Roman Catholic Church.

Haigh presents that development of a Protestant minority in England started when Thomas Cromwell brought Protestant elements little-by-little into Henry’s decision to break with Rome then promoted them even after Henry’s natural conservative religious views came into play. The Protestant minority truely came into being during the reign of Edward VI when his Protectors and Council systematically made the Church of England more Protestant. After surviving the reign of Mary, the Protestants overreached at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign when they tried to overhaul the Church of England in one-fell swoop instead of the step-by-step approached used by Crowmell and under Edward, and it was this overreached that most likely created the mixture of Reformed Protestant and Catholic beliefs that are present in the Anglican Church.

Haigh’s conclusions and the evidence he presents shows that after all these “reformations” England was Christian, it just wasn’t really majority Protestant or Catholic. And when considering the religious and political developments in Great Britain from 1603 to 1714 under the Stuarts along with the various colonies on the eastern coast of North America, this conclusion seems to be correct.

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