William Manchester – A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age
The best way to appreciate modern life is to study the past. Not to put too fine a point on it, but for most of human history, everything sucked. Most historians have traditionally focused on kings, battles, and the nobility, because they left behind the most sources. Manchester instead focuses on social history, or what daily life was like for the vast majority of people.
It was cold, hard, violent, dark, lonely, poor, and short. If you lived past 40, you were probably cragged, stooped and treated as an elder. The first thing a modern person would notice about Europe’s greatest cities back then would not be the architecture or the lack of cars and trains. It would be the smell.
The life of the mind was dark and narrow as those unlit city streets. Few people could read, and even fewer wrote. Cultural, religious, and political diversity were quite literally beaten out of people, sometimes to the death. Social order was similarly enforced; everyone in their place.
Life today has its problems, but we have much to be thankful for. This book shows why in great detail.