Cahill (A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green, 2009, etc.) sets his delightfully analytic mind to the major transformations prompted by the Renaissance and Reformation.
This sixth book of the author’s wonderful Hinges of History series shows how events and a change in philosophical views can uproot and reconfigure entire civilizations. Cahill begins with a little-known insurrection of the Sicilians against the French in the 13th century. They annihilated the French and their fleet and thwarted an invasion of Constantinople, which halted an East/West reunification under a single pope, giving rise to nation-states and, ultimately, Protestantism. The coming of the black plague decimated the peasant population, investing them with the economic power to demand an end to the rich/poor gap and giving birth to the middle class. Cahill illustrates societal changes as reflected in the writings of Dante, Boccaccio and Erasmus, “the Jon Stewart of his day.” Artists from Botticelli to da Vinci to Caravaggio bestowed their gifts upon us as iconic religious imagery was replaced by truer visions of flesh, warmth and perspective. Luther’s first vernacular printing of the Bible not only gave everyone the chance to learn to read and think, but actually helped developed written language. The author makes it seem so simple to connect the dots, as the 14th through 16th centuries witnessed changes to every facet and walk of life—from the expulsion of the Moors in Spain to the emergence of nations and massive religious upheaval.
The breadth of Cahill’s knowledge and his jocular style of writing make for a remarkable book.