This has to be one of my favourites of the Very Short Introduction series and believe me, I've read a fair few of them. This introduces us to the idea that the Renaissance wasn't purely a European Italian-centric happening. Instead Brotton looks at the Renaissance at a global level, introducing us to ideas and events which shaped the way the modern world has grown, including the worlds of finance, mathematics and geographical conquest.
Each chapter is themed to such issues and Brotton moves around the globe introducing us to new ideas, thoughts and beliefs that helped define the renaissance. If you are expecting to learn about painting and literature, they are in there, but not a great deal. What is most impressive is the scope and scale of the information given and how it is coherently set out in such a compact volume.
Of necessity and by design this is a starting post for those interested in dipping their toe in the world of the Renaissance and it is a very good one. There is also an extensive reading list at the back for those wishing to go further. An excellent book.
on 3 November 2007
Have you ever thought of the possibility of a global Renaissance, not only an Italian one? If you have, this book will not only confirm your speculations, but also prove to be a perfect starting point for additional research. If you haven't, or you have absolutely no clue about Renaissance history, art and beliefs I honestly doubt that you can get your hands on a better, more open minded and documented introduction into that post-Medieval period of time.
Unlike a plain history book, this doesn't take a chronological or a narrative approach. Nevertheless, I guarantee that you will not loose yourself in the midst of time as the events are clearly dated. Structured in six chapters, each picks on a main feature of the Renaissance world, guiding you alongside Columbus` voyages, through Spain's rivalry with Portugal, the Catholic Church's ascension and its war with Protestantism, ending with a foray into literature and into Shakespeare's plays.
If you are really interested in the Renaissance and want to stuff your brain with knowledge, you don't need to be put off by the title- this book is NOT a leaflet even if it doesn't have the length of the Oxford English Dictionary. So, don't treat it lightly. The information in there is characterized by quality and it's straight to the point: Considering the "Gargantuan" size of the book, it needs be.
I highly recommend it to anyone who has a thirst for knowledge but for those interested in art and history it's definitely a must have.
As with many recent accounts of the renaissance, this little book spends a large number of its compact pages questioning the very term itself. In fact, at one point, Mr Brotton seemed to be in danger of defining it as the period in history which subsequent generations have uniquely defined for their particular needs. But don't stop reading, this book does in the end convey, and in one sitting, the revolutionary and extraordinary nature of this epoch, even if it does try sometimes too hard to provide a liberally pleasing post 9/11 interpretation. We learn far more of Arabic contribution to the birth of modernity than that of Michelangelo or Botticelli, however, the persistent hammer of the argument does, inevitably, start to feel persuasive. One is not allowed either, to come away from the book without having any romantic notions of the renaissance hugely diminished. It would appear that we escaped from the dismal religious claustrophobia of the medieval world through rising social inequality, the megalomania of ruthless tyrants, ruthless professional ambition together with the expedient needs of warfare, trade, and ultimately, African slavery and the rape of the America's.
Strangely, Brotton is a little more perfunctory when it comes to his gender studies duties, merely contenting himself to point out that though the renaissance brought a Copernican revolution in regards to how man saw his place in the world, renaissance man still saw women's place to be in the home.
The book is not in the form of a continuous narrative, but instead devotes each chapter to a particular theme such as the darker side of the renaissance or renaissance literature. Brotton is particularly good in detailing the tremendous influence of the invention of printing in spreading knowledge and the new learning, and consequently bringing about massive social changes. He points teasingly to a comparison with the internet, though it is left to the reader to wonder if the new information revolution will lead to a new renaissance or to something truly darker.
on 28 October 2015
Well written book and a perfect introduction to a complex yet interesting topic. There is a large emphasis placed on the art of the period at the start of the book but this should not put the reader off as the Renaissance is an era which encompasses the economy, politics, religion as well as the arts. Would recommend.