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I enjoyed this book but have to say that it didn't really fit the title or the proposed argument given by the author at the start: that this was going to be an 'alternative' history, showing the influence of Asia, Africa and the East on the European Renaissance. Yes, he does bring in the importance of knowledge that reached the west via Arabic scholars, but these tend to be works that were originally 'western' anyway e.g. Aristotle, Ptolemy etc. Yes, he does make the point that these had been lost to the west after the division of the Roman empire, and that Arabic scholars had revised and updated them, particularly in view of new sciences such as geography and medicine, but there wasn't really a sense of novelty, just re-discovery.

That isn't, of course, the fault of the author, but the title was mis-leading: in fact this is a fairly standard (if engaging and very readable) review of the renaissance (or early modern period, as historians now say!). Brotton nicely foregrounds the 'dark side' in terms of slavery and exploitation of races under the frantic scrabble for empire, and underscores how the extermination of millions of 'natives' underpinned the 'romantic' view of the renaissance built around Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Shakespeare. But that's nothing new to anyone familiar with either the Athenian or Roman empire...

All in all this is an interesting book if you want a competant and compact rush through the remaissance, but it ultimately doesn't deliver anything new.
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VINE VOICEon 12 July 2005
I'm afraid that I really didn't enjoy this. It's riddled with suppositions, illogical leaps and errors and reads like a padded out undergrad 'controversial' essay.
I bought it as light reading on my annual summer trip to Siena and ended up writing irritated marginal notes all through it!
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