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The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Classics)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2011
Of all the books that give a general account of the Renaissance in Italy, I've found this one to be the most entertaining, enlightening and thought-provoking. What I enjoyed most of all is the abundance of specific details in this book, which may be due to its very well-structured contents: it touches on everything and more, and even gets down to the 'nitty gritty' details where it can.

It begins by looking at despots, dynasties, republics and society. Once groups are dealt with, personalities are explored. It then moves into antiquity and the significance of humanism, the classics etc for Italy at the time. The exploration of the world is addressed, followed by categorised information about society - festivals, customs, even a paragraph or two on what measures some women took to improve their appearance. To close, Burckhardt looks at religion, morality, and the general state of mind in renaissance Italy.

I've never read a more information-packed book, full of characters and events; it is by his genius that Burckhardt managed to stitch this altogether so seamlessly.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 1999
For much of the last 139 years, Jacob Burckhardt's work has been dismissed as too "Nineteenth Century" for serious study: more literature than serious history. So much the pity. What Burckhardt left us in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is a magisterial, thematic, understanding of the Italian Renaissance that is far more 1990's in its observations and human understandings than its original 1860's. It is a shame that Burckhardt's famous pupil, Nietzsche, didn't learn a little more balance and discretion at his elder's feet. This book is a joy to read. Like Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this work shows us how history can engage the spirit, and how far off the mark some modern historians have gone with their more "scholarly" work.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2010
It has been years since I read this but I thought i'd add a positive review because it seemed a little unloved here on Amazon. This is one of the most thrilling, enjoyable History books I've ever read and I would warmly recommend it to anyone with any interest in this period of History. Very well written and filled with fascinating detail it illuminate one of the most interesting periods in human history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2015
This book has been around for over 150 years, popularising the term “Renaissance” as a term of reference for what is considered a major historical age. Despite revisions of Burckhardt's arguments and new evidence requiring reconsideration of some factual statements, his work has continued to shape popular and academic thought about the Renaissance, even where it is used as a starting point for an opposing theory. Possibly the most durable aspect of the book is the overall sense it gives the reader of life in the Italian Renaissance, with its exciting new discoveries; princedoms won and lost in a peninsula-wide game of thrones so intricate it makes A Game of Thrones seem simple; the wonderful cultural focus on lost classics and the profligate, sometimes sublime, often mundane, neo-claccisists; the unique blending of power, literature and religion; and perhaps above all the beauty and frailty of life in this period of reinvention, brilliance and decadence.

In many ways it is a fool's errand to review such a historical monolith. It is inevitable that new historical evidence will emerge over time and force re-consideration of every piece of historical literature. Hence works such as this remain relevant despite the constant empirical advance due to the influence, if any, they continue to exert on the field in general. Given that, the question for the modern reader is whether the book is still worth reading.

Yes. The wealth of historical knowledge and anecdote presented in the fields of politics, religion, literature and art (to name a few) gives any reader that illusive phenomenon, the feel of the period. This insight into a prevailing culture evades capture by stale lists of works or important figures. It is a snapshot of the fabric of life for people of this period that few historians ever evoke with such success.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 September 2011
In this excellently documented book, J. Burckhardt gives an in depth analysis of the political, philosophical, religious and human revolution of the Renaissance in Italy.

Politics and Papacy
After the fall of feudalism, Condottieri, independent rulers created proto-States in Italy. At first, these rulers were brutal despots, controlling rigorously their populations and killing in the bud all `legal' opposition. But, when this despotism became more `human', a new historical fact appeared: a State, like the Republic of Venice. The first really modern State was the Republic of Florence with its struggles between the ruling nobility, the middle classes and the plebs.
The Papacy was an anomaly among the powers in Italy. Its rulers thrived on phenomenal corruption: vote selling by the cardinals during Papal elections, selling of offices and killing the buyers in order to able to sell the offices again or massive trading in spiritual (Heaven!) and also secular (pardon for murder) `favors'. Nepotism (!) was rampant.

Humanity
During the Renaissance people became spiritually and materially individuals in search of wealth, fame, brilliant `outward features' or simply of naked survival. Keeping one's honor was paramount. If it was attacked, offenders had to face vendetta. Differences of birth or between men and women lost their significance. As Dante said, `nobility rests on excellence'. Each individual felt himself inwardly emancipated from the `illegitimate' control of the State and its violence (police).
They expressed themselves in music (invented the orchestra), poetry (Dante, Petrarch), comical, satirical and theatrical sketches based on the daily course of human life (Commedia dell'Arte).
A common language proved itself politically and culturally to be of supreme importance.

Humanism, Antiquity
Individual scholars began the most zealous and thorough study of man himself, his history and the characteristics of `remarkable' men. Others challenged the clerical culture of the Middle Ages and returned to the philosophical and legal texts (Cicero, Seneca, Aristotle) and arts (architecture, sculpture) of Antiquity.
But, Antiquity brought also with it its superstition (astrology, necromancy, ghosts and witches) together with its `vulgar' Epicureanism (the belief only in bodily pleasures).

Religion
Religion became also an individual affair in the face of the much hated Church with its corrupt doctrine and its practical tyranny. Monks were the most unpopular class of all with their many privileges and very little supervision. Many among them were murderers and other malefactors, who tried to escape the arm of the law. As N. Machiavelli said, `the Church sets us the worst example.'
Those facts led to general skepticism. When belief in immortality wavered, Fatalism got the upper hand or Deism, where the Christian element was wiped out of religion.

In this ground breaking and still highly relevant text, J. Burckhardt distilled remarkably the truly essential elements of the `human (ist)' revolution of the Italian Renaissance in the history of mankind.
A must read.
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on 28 August 2014
Does what it says on the tin. Gives the reader the facts in a readable form.
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on 7 October 2014
goodly
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2 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2011
Yes of course it is important as an historical artefact. But really it is as far removed from reality as we know it as the Renaissance period which is the subject of this, Burkhardt's seminal historical work. Buckhardt did not exist during the Renaissance. He came along much later but some of the ideas which he accepts as historical facts are weird and wacky. I remember reading an encyclopaedia when I was very young. It was an old book and there was speculation, to my astonishment, by one contributor, that what it is possible to see the remnants of canals on Mars' surface!

This book is dated. Over-credulous. Burkhardt was an over-zealous convert to the value of the Renaissance era as shaper of European civilisation. He over-eggs the revolutionary agency of the era. Obsesses about it to the exclusion of antecedents.
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