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The Renaissance

Books on the Renaissance

 The Renaissance Book Cover
In the 1400s Europe awoke from a thousand-year slumber, rediscovering its genetic roots in classical Greece and Rome. This book explains how this “rebirth” emerged from the breakdown of the Middle Ages, producing an entirely new vision of man. It discusses exemplars in arts and letters, and wholly new institutions. Finally, it considers the critical questions of why these events occurred there and then.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Background: The Middle Ages
    1. The Two Foundations
    2. Foundations Crumble
  3. The Explosive Awakening
  4. New Perspectives
    1. Painting
    2. Sculpture
    3. Architecture
    4. Letters
  5. New Institutions
    1. Printing and Literacy
    2. Nation States
    3. Religious Revolution
    4. Science
    5. Capitalism
    6. Global Exploration
  6. Why Here? Why Now?
  7. Final Word
  8. Timeline


Civilizations are born. Civilizations die. And sometime—very rarely—they go to sleep and re-awaken. That’s what happened to European civilization after the fall of Rome in 476 C.E (Common Era). For almost a thousand years, until around 1400, Europe was in an extended slumber, a hibernation that later writers would call a “Dark Age.” When it finally awoke, it did so with a vitality and a creativity that startled the world, that startled even Europeans themselves. It was almost as if the intellectual glories of Greece and Rome had been brought back to life, as if the majesty of the ancient world had been reborn. Indeed, that is what “Renaissance” means: “Rebirth.”

This work discusses the astonishing achievements of the Renaissance. It begins with their origins in the breakdown of the medieval order. It discusses the central idea of the Renaissance, Humanism, and how that idea came to be reflected in art, sculpture, architecture, and letters. It looks at the changes that occurred in Europe’s core institutions—politics, economics, science, and religion—and how those changes defined the character of the emerging modern world. Finally, it considers the critical questions of why these tectonic changes occurred in Europe and why they occurred at this particular time.

One of the devices we use to clarify our understanding of major periods is to express their essence in as economical a form as possible. So, for example, we said of the Middle Ages, “After the fall, a thousand year darkness.” For that is what happened: Rome fell, and a “darkness” enveloped Europe. In the case of the Renaissance, the simplification we have chosen is this: “Europe awoke by rediscovering its ancient past.” For that is what the Renaissance really was: a rediscovery of the majesty of Europe’s classical past, of Greece and Rome.

Yet, while those legacies had so much to impart, so much more emerged as well. That is the mystery (if not the miracle) of the Renaissance: that it was so fertile in reviving an ancient culture; yet so creative in how it changed that culture into the roots of what we now know as the modern world. This is that story.

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