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For a contemporary author of history to write a book of real merit it is required that the author have mastered the material that is the subject of the book, found wisdom in those studies, and most importantly must be able to present his work in a style that renders the material comprehensible and appealing to a wide readership.
When reading a work penned 150 years ago, one must allow for the change in writing styles from then to now. For example just try reading On War by Carl von Clausewitz or even Geoffrey Chaucer or even William Shakespeare in their original wordings. It should also go without saying that when the author refers to now he means his contemporary now of a 150 years ago, which means, his ideology reflect his era not ours.
Thus, Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy like The Prince by Niccol?? Machiavelli or The Inferno by Dante Alighieri needs some knowledge of the era to be truly appreciated. Because of the arcane style of this book, if you don't already have knowledge of both the Renaissance in Italy and the author's 1800's this work may not be the best place to acquire it.
Geoffrey Howard did an able job in his narration.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
Often, when writing about the Renaissance there is tendency among experts/writers/historians to focus on the well-plumed bird and ignore the nest. Burckhardt spends nearly 400 pages carefully detailing the Tuscan nest of the Renaissance that embraced, protected, and incubated the great Italian artists of the Rinascimento (Giotto to Michelangelo, etc).
Burckhardt first describes the state in Italy and carefully describes the rise of the despots, the energy of the republics, and the push and the pull of the papacy. He builds on this, describing the development of the individual, Italy's relationship with its Classical past. Finally, Burckhardt details the science, society and religion of Italy during those impressive years between 1350 and 1550.
I think Daniel J. Boorstin summarized it best when he said Burckhardt "offered a classic portrait of the men and institutions that gave the era its characters and made it the mother of modern European civilization."
Like Gibbon's fantastic 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' it is tempting to gloss over how drastically the craft of history was changed by this book. Burckhardt wasn't interested in a stale or utilitarian history. He wanted a nest that was just as beautiful as the bird it bore.
14 of 20 people found this review helpful