Just as Monty Python began each episode of their Flying Circus by proclaiming, “and now for something completely different”, it’s now my turn to bring you something a little different. As a kind of spin-off of my Farewell to the 15th Century series, over the next few months or so I hope to review a series of books on the Renaissance. The first book to featured as part of this new series is simply titled The Renaissance and was published back in 2002 by Greenhaven Press as part of its World History by Era collection. Produced mainly for public libraries as well as for upper-division high school and lower-division college readers, over the years I’ve had pretty good luck with Greenhaven’s books, specifically their Current Controversies and Opposing Viewpoints series. So I guess it’s not too surprising that when I came across Greenhaven’s The Renaissance during one of my library visits I snatched it up. But even as I did, I had a feeling the book would not overwhelm me with greatness. Later, upon finishing it my suspicions would be confirmed.
The Renaissance is one of those books that’s not great, but not lousy either. Like all books from Greenhaven, it’s a collection of pieces taken from other sources and in this particular case most of the selected material originally appeared in other history books. Understanding that original source material is vital to the study of history, editor Jeff Hay elected to include selections from Niccolo Machiavelli, Hernan Cortes, Leonardo da Vinci and Francis Bacon. Looking at all the material presented in this volume, while nothing makes for fascinating reading, on the other hand nothing comes off as being completely awful either.
I think the best thing about this book is its scope. Instead of restricting the book’s focus solely to the Italian Renaissance, there are chapters devoted to developments in India, China, Japan, the Americas and Africa. There’s also material covering the Age of Discovery and the Reformation, in addition to the rise of printing and as well as the trade in slaves and sugar. After reading The Renaissance, one gets the notion that this was a pivotal era when it came to European dominance. It’s centralized nation-states would eventually go on to re-shape the world thanks in no small part to German printing, Italian political theory, Iberian naval prowess and Dutch and English commerce.