A World Lit Only by Fire

A World Lit Only by Fire
William Manchester

A rather pointless book, apparently undertaken by its non-expert author as a kind of vacation from his regular field. Ostensibly about the medieval mind and the Renaissance it spends little time on either and settles instead down to relating a third-hand history of the Reformation and a pocket bio of Magellan, with the latter part coming to the spectacularly absurd conclusion that “In the long lists of history it is difficult to find another figure whose heroism matches Magellan’s.” In fact, Magellan was a typical explorer of the period: a monomaniacal jerk. On the larger question of “Just how dark were the dark ages, anyway?” (one which has exercised historians quite a bit in modern times), Manchester’s answer is dark indeed, with much abuse heaped on the “dense, overarching, suffocating medieval night” and little to put on the other side of the ledger.