“The History of the Renaissance World” by Susan Wise Bauer (Norton, 2013)

The History of the Renaissance World
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To many the renaissance was a time of rebirth and growth that began sometime around the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, ushering in a whole new era of scientific development and the advancement of knowledge. But after completing her History of the Medieval World, Susan Wise Bauer begins her History of the Renaissance correctly in the early twelfth century beginning with the rediscovery of Aristotle and ending in the mid fifteenth century with the conquest of Constantinople.

The detailed book is divided into five sections: “Renaissances,” “Invasions, Heresies, and Uprisings,” “Catastrophes,” “Regroupings,” “Endings.” Just as she did with The History o f the Ancient World and The History of the Medieval World, Bauer takes the reader on a fantastic whirlwind tour of the world, presenting a detailed history from specific periods of these various cultures, how they were interacting and engaging with each other, and what developments occurred and when and how they influenced the nations of the world. Where she can, Bauer uses timelines, photos, pictures and any other sources that will help the reader along.

Just as with her previous books in this series, The History of the Renaissance World is an ideal historical reference that can be enjoyed as a normal book, read from beginning to ending, taking the reader across the globe over three centuries of complex history, or used as a quick reference guide thanks to the concise contents listing and lengthy index, allowing readers to get to a specific historical event in time in seconds. This is a worthy volume to add to one’s collection and is perfect for the student or scholar wanting a handy reference manual for the period, or for the history aficionado who simply wishes to learn more about the renaissance and when it truly began.

Originally written on March 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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The History of the Ancient World  The History of the Medieval World

“The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade” by Susan Wise Bauer (Norton, 2010)

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After covering the history of pre-civilization on through antiquity in her first tome with The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer returns with the next volume in the four-book series, The History of the Medieval World.  Weighing in at over seven hundred pages, Bauer has once again outdone herself covering the fall of Rome in the third to fourth centuries on up to the first crusade in the eleventh century.  What makes Bauer’s work so beneficial as well as important is that she is not simply covering the history of Europe, but concurrently relates to the reader the rise and fall of rulers and people of the Middle East and India, as well as Asia; in The History of the Medieval World, Bauer even has a number of chapters dedicated to the Americas and the growth of Mesoamerica.

Perhaps what makes these works so seminal is Bauer’s telling concurrently of all these civilizations’ events, happenings and histories, providing interrelating details and facts to link everything together.  While this may seem somewhat overwhelming in a block of text, Bauer breaks this up with numerous maps – at least one per chapter – explaining where the events are happening and to who, as well as occasional photos to further illustrate a point.  At the end of each chapter is an invaluable table that lists the chronological events of the chapter with dates, as well as other columns listings events of other civilizations in previous chapters.

In this way the reader never becomes lost or confused, with all these facets that help keep him or her on track.  Of course, there is also an extensive bibliography and a lengthy index to provide easy referencing, as well as a full table of contents with one-sentence chapter summaries.  It appears inevitable now that when the last two volumes of this series are complete, the four-book set will be an important collection for any fan of history, be they teacher, student, or amateur historian.

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Originally written on May 3 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome” by Susan Wise Bauer (Norton, 2007)

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The History of the Ancient World is Susan Wise Bauer’s first book of a four-volume series, as she attempts to recount a complete history of the world.  In this first tome, she covers humanity’s beginnings of civilization, as we changed our nomadic ways, on through the ancient world, up to Emperor Constantine and the fall of the great Roman Empire.  Weighing in at 860 pages, including notes and bibliography, it’s the most detailed and complete history of the ancient world I have ever read.

Bauer’s insight in bringing this lengthy but important time in history to the reader is through her system of not having a section of the book dedicated to each civilization or ruler, but in recounting a chronological history of the ancient world, taking a chapter with each civilization as they rise, prosper, and then fall.  In a time when history is not just about dates, conquerors, kings, and emperors, but pulling back and looking at the different regions on a wider scale, this book is indispensable  It is in this way that historians discover why certain things happen, and why certain people do the things they do: because they are related and dependent on all events and happenings in that part of the world, and not just their particular civilization.  Bauer does exactly this by telling everyone’s story concurrently with everyone else’s.  It’s a magnificent feat, not just from the reader’s standpoint in learning the history, but on an editorial scale also.  In this way, the reader’s sees that history isn’t just about one group conquering another for personal gain (though this is certainly a part of it), but humanity’s striving for an evolution of improvement.

Using obvious and clear chapter titles, along with a few sentences on what the chapter is about; navigating through this book is not a problem at all with these devices, as well as a lengthy and complete table of contents.  The book is split up into five parts: The Edge of History, Firsts, Struggle, Empires, and Identity.  In this way, Bauer is indicating the progression of humanity in the ancient world and making it clear what the reader should be taking from the book.  Her only failing is in most of the book consisting of the history of the ancient western world.  Leaving out the Americas – due to lack of historical evidence, I would presume – and leaving Africa for a later book; apart from the western world, Bauer also focuses on China and India, though not to the extent as with Western Europe and the Middle East.  While I’m certain there was a lot more going on in India, China, and Asia for the most part, Bauer presents at best a survey of ancient times in this part of the world.  Nevertheless, again she does an amazing job of covering each civilization in parallel, so that the reader knows what was happening in China, Asia, and Babylon during the rise of the Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt.  Bauer even goes one step further with tables at the end of each chapter which cover the events in that chapter, as well as those in the previous chapter, listing them side by side with a time-line.

The History of the Ancient World is a necessary encyclopedia for any amateur historian with an affection for the period, and with the countless maps and pictures throughout the book, it is also an ideal albeit lengthy book for those wishing to learn more about the ancient civilizations across the globe.  Now it is a case of impatiently waiting for the next volume in the series which will cover the Middle Ages throughout the world.

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Originally written on April 5th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

2/18 On the Bookshelf . . .

History of the Medieval World

Received a welcome tome on my doorstep yesterday: The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer.  After enjoying The History of the Ancient World, I knew it was going to be  a long wait for Bauer’s next volume to come out in her history of the world series, but it has now arrived and will certainly take me a while to get through; but since it’s my favorite period in history, I will somehow have to manage.