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The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller Paperback – 1 Mar 1992

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; New Ed edition (1 Mar. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801843871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801843877
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.4 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 250,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A wonderful book... Ginzburg is a historian with an insatiable curiosity, who pursues even the faintest of clues with all the zest of a born detective until every fragment of evidence can be fitted into place. The work of reconstruction is brilliant, the writing superbly readable, and by the end of the book the reader who has followed Dr. Ginzburg in his wanderings through the labyrinthine mind of the miller of the Friuli will take leave of this strange and quirky old man with genuine regret.

(J. H. Elliott New York Review of Books)

Ginzburg has excavated a marvelous and melancholy tale. Lay readers know that historical work of this order requires formidable skills and dogged research... Ginzburg's discovery of Menocchio is a dazzling entry into the historical world of popular culture.

(Lauro Martines Washington Post)

About the Author

Carlo Ginzburg is a professor at Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Italy, and the recipient of the prestigious International Balzan Prize. He is author of The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century and Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 3 April 2012
Format: Paperback
Carlo Ginzburg, an Italian historian of the early-modern period, first published The Cheese and the Worms in 1976. The book is an early example of the emerging and now ubiquitous cultural history, but it is also credited with having started micro-history. Micro-history, a movement more specifically popular in Italian academia, consists of the interpretation of ultra-specific subjects, of ordinary events and individuals, for the light they might shed on broader historical subjects. Another example might include Robert Darnton's Great Cat Massacre, dealing with French popular culture in the ancien régime.

Here Ginzburg goes through the records of two Inquisition trials of the late sixteenth-century. The individual on trial is Domenico Scandella, a miller from a small village in Venetia. Scandella was in many ways special. He was literate, to begin with. And he had very set and unorthodox notions about the cosmos, creation, the Trinity, the soul, and many other things. He preached to fellow villagers and strangers alike, and on occasion defied the clergy. His story is fascinating in its own right: Ginzburg takes us through the books the miller read, what he appears to have taken away from them and how, his social views, what can be known of his private fate. And it also resonates with broader contemporary change: the Reformation and counter-Reformation, the growth and repression of heretical movements in Italy, social and political upheaval in the region. (The book, abundantly footnoted, is nevertheless accessible to the non-academic reader and is moreover an excellent yarn). Yet Ginzburg makes even more ambitious claims.
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By A Customer on 10 Dec. 1998
Format: Paperback
Carlo Ginzburg was one of the first historians to put into practice anthropological ideas about culture as a historically transmitted system of meaning. These ideas were developed by Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and ultimately, Michel Foucault. In using Menocchio, Ginzburg makes a statement about making history from the point of view of the excluded, the liminal characters of society. In this sense, Menocchio's story ceases to be an anecdote and becomes a reflection and a statement about the way Italian society was constructed in the 16th century. All this from the point of view of those upon whom power was imposed.
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By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 25 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
"You might as well go and confess to a tree as to priests and monks."

I came across a reference to this book quite by chance, and was intrigued.

Domenico Scandella was born in 1532, and died, burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1599. He was an obscure miller from an obscure Italian village, and his beliefs are recorded for us today purely because he was tried by the Inquisition twice. Their precise and detailed records allow us to get a glimpse into a life that was formed by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, and framed by the advent of printing, giving Menocchio (as he was called) the ability and opportunity to take his own thoughts and blend them into what the Church deigned to call a heresy. The Catholic Church Counter-Reformation led to harsh penalties for those who thought outside the orthodox, and the Reformation, together with printing, had enabled those who wondered to think outside what the Church had earlier taught them. A dangerous mixture, if the thinkers read too much, spoke too much and caught the attention of the Inquisitors.

A sad story, one cannot help but wonder if Menocchio had learned his lesson after his first incarceration and release and had kept his ideas to himself, he would not have ended up again in trouble, this time fatally. All the more poignant for his apparent redemption and then failure, this is an eye-opening story, horrifying because of its truth, sad because of its loss. In a world where the Church could condemn men such as Giordano Bruno to horrible death, what hope did a man like Menocchio have? This book left me with a real feeling of deep sadness, for what man can do to man.
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Format: Paperback
Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg traces the story of one Menocchio, a peasant from northern Italy who was put on trial (and eventually burned at the stake) for heresy by the Italian inquisition in the 16th century. He puts forwards parts of the transcription of the trial, and we realize that Menocchio has some quite heterodox (and not totally consistent) views on theology and cosmology, suggesting a number of eclectic sources for his ideas. For example, he viewed the Earth as a sort of giant cheese and the angels as worms coming out of the cheese (hence the book's title). How an Italian peasant, without presumably much access to books, would get such views, Ginzburg asks. He traces the bookshelves of Menocchio, but he is unable to come up with a clear answer. For example, even though his cosmology seems to have been influenced by a reading of the Koran, that was not among the books he possessed. Ginzburg finally suggests that Menocchio was a recipient of an ancient oral tradition, perhaps going back to the prechristian past, that was not totally suppressed by the church in rural areas. The book deals with an interesting subject, but is unfortunately hampered by Ginzburg's deliberately obscure writing style. A more conventional storytelling would have helped.
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