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review 2017-11-20 13:14
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 2 - Guy Fawkes Night: Headless Chicken Parade Part 1: Giordano Bruno
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600) was an eminent Italian philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological scientist, whose theories extended the then-novel Copernican model. Bruno proposed that the stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets and raised the possibility that these planets could even foster life of their own; and he insisted that the universe is in fact infinite and could have no celestial body at its "center". -- Raised in Naples as a Dominican friar from age 13 onwards, his interest in the writings of Copernicus and Desiderius Erasmus attracted the attention of the Holy Inquisition before he had even turned 30, and rather than become a martyr for the sake of his philosophical and scientific beliefs then and there, he fled from his monastery and from Italy and, having made a name for himself as a scholar in France and attained the patronage of French King Henri III himself, he eventually turned up in Britain in 1583, where he was introduced to Francis Walsingham and agreed to become a spy in Walsingham's network. The Inquisition did eventually catch up with him in 1593, however, and he was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori in 1600.

 

While you will be able to glean the above biographical facts (up to 1583) from the beginning of S.J. Parris's Heresy and the book actually has an engaging beginning, it all goes rapidly downhill (or it did for me, anyway) from the moment when the first of several murders occurs. -- Parris's book uses details from Bruno's actual stay in England, in sending him to Oxford for a philosophical debate with the then-Rector of Lincoln College, John Underhill (who indeed opposed Bruno's views). The rest of the story is fictitious, however, and I sincerely hope the personality of this book's Giordano Bruno has nothing whatsoever in common with that of the real-life philosopher and scientist, because if it had, it would be nothing short of a miracle how he ever managed to evade the Inquisition and find his way all the way to France and, later, England.

 

As for "Bruno the sleuth," leaving aside that initially there isn't even a good reason for him to involve himself in the investigation into the dead man's murder

(even the discovery that the man was a clandestine Catholic, and that his death may thus fall into the purview of Bruno's mission as a spy, follows his death; there is nothing to make Bruno suspect as much while the man is still alive),

(spoiler show)

the murder and its immediate aftermath are described in such a fashion that anybody who has read Arthur Conan Doyle's

Silver Blaze

(spoiler show)

can't fail to notice one fact pointing very damningly in one particular direction right from the start -- and surely the real-life Giordano Bruno's intellect would have been on par with that of Sherlock Holmes in every respect? And it certainly doesn't get any better by the fact that the one person who thus draws, if not the fictional Bruno's attention, then at least that of this book's reader to themselves in a very conspicious manner, with the same act also eliminates a witness in a manner identical to that used by Ellis Peters in

the fourth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, St. Peter's Fair

(spoiler show)

... and that in connection with a second murder, a few days later, Parris employs precisely the same slight of hand already used by Agatha Christie in

Murder at the Vicarage.

(spoiler show)

 

So, I found myself looking in one particular direction from page 95 onwards, and though it turned out that I had the dynamics between two of the persons involved the wrong way around, I never wavered in my belief that the solution lay that way -- which makes a 474-page book a mighty slog to finish, particularly if the book's alleged super-sleuth is running around like a headless chicken, missing just about ever vital clue that doesn't actually explode in his face, and standing by passively and helplessly and / or letting himself be tricked, manhandled and otherwise be manipulated in a way I'd possibly have expected from a rookie investigator, but not from a distinguished intellectual like the real life Giordano Bruno, who after all had, himself, demonstrated considerable cunning in evading the persecution of the Holy Inquisition and make his way, undetected, all the way from southern Italy to France and England.

 

There is one final twist that I didn't see coming exactly this way around (although I should have, and just possibly might if I'd still cared enough to engage with the book at that point), and I'll also have to give Parris credit for an engaging beginning and for her knowledge of the period -- even though I wondered several times how her version of Giordano Bruno, who had never before been to Oxford in his life, could have the city's layout down so pat within a day at most that the book reads as if Parris had had a map of 16th century Oxford sitting next to her manuscript virtually all the time.

 

Final note to those who don't care for first person present tense narration: There is an excerpt of the series's second book (Prophecy) included at the end of my edition, and while I didn't actually read it, I've seen enough of it to be able to recognize that it's written in that particular narrative voice. (Heresy is not -- it's in first person past tense.)

 

I read this book for Square 2 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Guy Fawkes Night: Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover.

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review 2017-11-18 23:27
Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650
Reformations: Early Modern Europe, 1450-1660 - Carlos M.N. Eire

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter?  In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation.  An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

 

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences.  This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time.  The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses.  “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result.  “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s.  “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

 

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history.  The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers.  This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

 

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe.  Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does.  So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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text 2017-11-10 13:08
Reading progress update: I've read 42 out of 474 pages.
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Started last night; I'm reading this for Square 2, Guy Fawkes Night:

"Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover."

This seems to tick off all the categories -- Tudor Era political and religious conspiracies; even on the first pages, the Inquisition and the notion of burning heretics has already reared its ugly head ... and it's even got fire on the cover, too!

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text 2017-11-09 17:11
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 9 - Winter Solstice / Yaldā Night
The Illustrated Stratford Shakespeare - William Shakespeare

 

Tasks for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book in one night - in the S. Hemisphere, read a book in a day. –OR– Grab one of your thickest books off the shelf. Ask a question and then turn to page 40 and read the 9th line of text on that page. Post your results. –OR– Eat a watermelon or pomegranate for good luck and health in the coming year, but post a pic first!.

 

Who better to turn to for this than Shakespeare?

 

I asked a question on behalf of Teddy: Will he remain the only cat around this place, or is there another (of course, also FIV positive) feline in our joint future?

 

I think the Bard's answer is unequivocal -- and I'll make a note of that new nickname for Teddy, for whenever we find out who "she" is going to be):

 

Merken

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review 2017-10-01 20:07
The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici - Elizabeth Lev

"Se io potessi scrivere tutto, farei stupire il mondo" (If I could write everything, I would shock the world). -- Caterina Sforza to a monk during the last decade of her life.

A superbly researched biography of an extraordinary woman we don't hear enough about except her connection to the Borgias. Her story is a lot more interesting than Lucrieza's. At ten she was married to Sixtus IV's nephew, the archenemy of the Medicis Girolamo Riario. After Riarlo's assassination by the Orsi, she became the regent for her son Ottaviano and immediately hunted down her husband's killers as well as anyone remotely connected to the conspiracy, including the Orsi women and the Pope's governor. She trained her city's militia herself and personally oversaw all manner of public policy. Caught up in the Italian Wars and betrayed by Naples, she earned the enmity of Venice until their ally, Caesare Borgia, eventually captured her. It's a wonder Hollywood hasn't come along to do a bang-up job in her life, something better than the schematic portrayal she gets on The Borgias.

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